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Stow police have trained in every SMF school building 'multiple times'

This is part two of The Spotlight’s look at security and safety in the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District in the wake of the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May and the passage of House Bill 99 in Ohio in June. Read part one here. Today's subject: law enforcement.

The 2022-23 school year got underway with trepidation across the United States.

School doors opened in August with memories of the mass shooting that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, still fresh on the minds of parents as they send their children off to school each morning.

Hard questions have been raised following Uvalde, chief among them: Why didn’t law enforcement take action more quickly? It has since come to light that for a full 74 minutes, police officers waited on-site before breaching the classroom to engage the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.

Ramos, armed with an AR-15 rifle, entered the school through an unlocked door and wreaked havoc for most of those 74 minutes that police stood idly by. He was eventually shot and killed by members of the United States Border Patrol Tactical Unit. The conduct of Uvalde law enforcement is being investigated by the United States Department of Justice and the Texas Ranger Division.

The chaotic scene that day, which included parents clashing with police as they tried to get inside the school to save their children, has resulted in school districts nationwide taking a hard look at their relationship with local law enforcement and whether they are prepared to handle an assault similar to Uvalde, the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

When The Spotlight asked Stow-Munroe Falls Superintendent Tom Bratten how closely the district works with the Stow Police Department regarding school safety, he responded: “Extremely.” He did not elaborate, citing safety issues in disclosing how many officers are at each building, where and when.

Stow Police Chief Jeff Film acknowledged that his department and the school district have a strong security partnership.

“We have a great working relationship with the school principals, administration and Superintendent Tom Bratten,” he said. “Our officers have trained in each of our school buildings multiple times, and we have training set up at the high school later this fall. We hold regular safety and security meetings with Munroe Falls police/fire departments, the superintendent and members of his staff. We have conducted threat assessments on each school building through the Attorney General’s training protocol.

“We train our officers to appropriately respond to any emergency in the school district. Our officers have been participating annually in rapid deployment training for over 20 years. We also have annual training in firearms, defensive tactics, mass protests, use of force, and de-escalation techniques. The school has been very proactive in improving physical security at their school buildings over the past several years, and we continue to assess security needs within the district.”

SMF Board of Education President Nancy Brown said she has “complete confidence that Mr. Bratten, [Stow] Mayor [John] Pribonic, [Munroe Falls] Mayor [Allen] Mavrides, Chief Film and [Munroe Falls] Chief [Steve] Dunton are committed to working together to have the most effective safety protocols in place.”

While Film didn’t elaborate on protocols in an active-shooter situation, he did detail the assets that his department could bring to bear — which go far beyond the 44 sworn police officers in his department.

“We have a School Resource Officer assigned full-time to the high school and a DARE officer that works in the schools three days a week,” he said. “Additionally, we have officers working in the schools daily. We are also a member of the Metro SWAT Team that covers 23 communities in Summit and Portage county. It is a highly trained tactical team that consists of 26 tactical operators, seven FBI-trained negotiators, eight medics, three techs and a team doctor. Through state law, we also have mutual aid with all adjacent communities as well as the sheriff’s office.”

One group that won’t be supplying help to the Stow PD: Stow-Munroe Falls teachers. House Bill 99, signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine in June, allows school boards to decide for themselves if they want to arm their teachers in the classroom. Like most districts in Ohio, the SMF school board chose not to allow teachers and staff to carry firearms on school grounds.

Film doubts the necessity or viability of arming teachers in the classroom, echoing the sentiments of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, which represents about 26,000 law enforcement officers across the state. The FOP has opposed HB 99.

“This is a difficult question,” he said, “because we just do not know if arming teachers who have little to no training in the application of lethal force is an appropriate response to the crisis that this country has seen the past two decades. We will continue to work with the school administration and their staff to improve the safety of our schools. The children and staff are our priority.”

And as Uvalde so painfully illustrated, when law enforcement lacks cohesion and decisiveness, children and staff pay the price.

“Active-shooter situations are unpredictable and volatile,” Film said. “Our goal is to respond as quickly as possible and deal with the threat appropriately.”