Franklin - Police Chief Rick Oliva on Tuesday told the Common Council his department has stepped up its preparedness to handle active shooting incidents like that which occurred Dec. 14 in the public school system in Newtown, Conn.
He also emphasized that his department has extended its active shooter training while developing a closer relationship with leaders of the Franklin School District.
Oliva gave his brief presentation at the request of Mayor Tom Taylor. He said representatives of his department will continue addressing school safety when they meet with school leaders Jan. 10 "to review protocols and procedures to make sure we are on the same page."
He noted the department has been in an increased preparation mode since the school shootings at Columbine in April of 1999 and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City.
"I'm very confident that we are able to address incidents because we have had training for many years," said Oliva, adding that the training has occurred in controlled exercises at the high school, middle school and two elementary schools.
"We have also had those exercises at City Hall," he said.
He noted further involvement with surrounding law enforcement that includes a combined tactical team with Greendale as well as participation in planning sessions at the local, regional and state levels. Further evidence, he said, is seen in Franklin working with neighboring police departments during incidents such as the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek.
Oliva called the lack of a police liaison officer in the schools "a gap" he would like to see closed. A previous liaison position, funded 50-50 by the city and schools, that had existed for more than a decade was eliminated by the district three years ago, he said.
School officials said the Jan. 10 meeting with police is operational, but noted that it is a continuation of ongoing safety-related discussions between the two entities.
"It's on our mind every day," Superintendent Steve Patz said. "Sometimes it takes a big event like the one that happened in Connecticut. We had questions from parents and staff after that, so we met with our principals to see if we could do something a little different. We have always had a great relationship with the Franklin Police Department, so we wanted to explore that."
The district already had safety on its mind when it proposed a $48.8 million referendum to improve and expand facilities at Franklin High School and Forest Park Middle School. As part of the $33 million referendum voters approved Nov. 6 for a wide range of enhancements, a new front entrance will be designed to better identify and control those who enter the main entrance.
Though the middle school referendum failed, Principal Theresa West said the school still plans to use existing operational funds to beef up front entrance security with a lock-and-monitor system.
West said she was looking forward to the meeting with local law enforcement.
"It's always good to meet with the police, who can give us an update on all kinds of procedures," she said. "I hope to come away with a better understanding of what we should do if something happens."
Oliva, Patz and West all said that even the most effective safety preparation may not be able to prevent all incidents. They said they hope that the schools and the city will be prepared to respond faster and better.
"Educators have a lot more on their mind these days," West said. "We are always working to improve education, but first and foremost we must protect the students."
A bigger issue
Taylor said preparedness extends beyond schools. He noted that the increasing challenges faced by the Milwaukee County Health Complex often result in patients who are not receiving care on that campus winding up in communities, sometimes "on the front door of our police departments."
Taylor, chairman of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, said he is looking forward to seeing a national plan to help deal with mental health issues that have led to public mass shootings.
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