County Council establishes task force to study school gun violence
By: Michael R. Smith
At its Dec. 17 meeting the St. Charles County Council established a 14-person task force to study the problem of schoolyard gun violence and make prevention recommendations in the wake of shootings that killed 20 students plus adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The council took the rare measure of introducing and passing the bill in one session upon the request of County Executive Steve Ehlmann.
The task force will be composed of five officials from local public and private education, five law enforcement personnel, two County Council members, and two representatives from mental health organizations.
The group’s function, Ehlmann said, will be to bring a preliminary report to the council by Feb. 1, 2013; and a final report by June 1, 2013. He said he wants to make sure that all schools and day cares in the county are doing all they can to prevent the kind of school violence that has roiled the country in recent years.
“In the last 15 years there have been 57 school shootings, ranging from one death to 33 deaths,” said County Sheriff Tom Neer. He explained to the council that law enforcement can’t prevent that kind of violence.
“We’re responders. We respond when the tragedy has already occurred,” Neer said. However, he said, that law enforcement personnel can and do work with education officials to provide the safest school environments. “Law enforcement works with all the schools in this county to have very good plans on active shooters,” Neer said.
He also said that the county is going through a process that “all law enforcement officers in St. Charles County will have been trained in responding to active shooters.”
Fort Zumwalt School District Assistant Superintendent Kim Carter told the council that her district like many in the area take multiple security measures to ensure the safety of students. She said those measures include having single locked entrances for visitors where identification must be shown prior to being admitted into the buildings, public safety officers on duty, and identification cards for students and employees.
Carter said her district also practices lock-down drills, does background checks on all employees and vendor representatives, provides overnight supervision of facilities, and tries to identify mental health or other risk factors in students.
That’s the kind of information that Ehlmann wants shared in the county. “What I envision is…having schools come in and say ‘well, here’s what we do’ and (share) ideas to see if there are best practices that aren’t being followed,” Ehlmann said.
“My suspicion is that the public schools are more on top of this than the parochial schools,” Ehlmann said. “I would like to make sure they’re represented and have the access to this kind of information.” He said he also wants day cares to be involved though they aren’t specifically mentioned in the task force responsibilities.
County Counselor Joann Leykam explained that Ehlmann requested the emergency bill after the events on Friday, Dec. 14 unfolded in Connecticut. She said that because the council met the next business day, Dec. 17, there wasn’t time for a 24-hour public announcement before the bill’s introduction, so it was introduced as an emergency bill.
She said that Ehlmann wanted to get the emergency law passed so the task force could begin its work immediately.
After the bill passed Council Chairperson Nancy Matheny mentioned that Terry Hollander (Dist. 5, St. Charles) and Joe Brazil (Dist. 2, Defiance) would be the council’s representatives on the task force.