Opinion Police and Fire Schools / Kids

LETTER: It Is in South Orange-Maplewood District’s Best Interest to Align School Safety with ALICE Program

South Orange Maplewood Board of Education Members,

I would like to start off by stating that I am terribly disappointed by the board’s decision to remove resolution 3735 (district wide ALICE training) from the agenda on May 14, 2018. It’s my understanding it has been publicly stated that the political beliefs of the founder of ALICE do not align with some members of the Board and parents in our community. I do not believe this should discourage us from implementing the ALICE program. In my professional opinion, it is irresponsible for the Board to allow political beliefs and false narratives to dictate training programs in district. Meanwhile, our children’s lives are at stake with our current lack of planning as I sit here writing to you. I cannot sit back and stay silent about this.

Currently, I hold the position of Range Master for the South Orange Police Department and I have earned numerous certifications in this field. These certifications include State of New Jersey Certified Police Instructor, FBI Police Sniper, Rifle Instructor and Active Shooter Instructor additionally I have been a member of the Essex County Rapid Deployment Team for fourteen years. Under the request of two South Orange Police Chiefs I have been overseeing the training of the teachers, staff and SOPD Officers for the past eleven years.

Furthermore, I manage all of the security policies and procedures of the South Orange Schools.

As a 29-year veteran of the South Orange Police Department, a lifelong resident of South Orange, and as a graduate of our school district, I fortunately never once experienced what today’s students go through when they attend school. Every day our children and staff enter a building hoping that an Active Shooter Event never happens. In just this month alone there have been 4 school shootings; when will we as a community decide to put the lives of the 6,960 students and 750 staff ahead of our discontent for the ALICE Program?

For years the district, along with its administration, has continued to resist the South Orange Police Department’s requests for the needed critical security changes within our school district. It was not until you hired Dr. Thomas Shea that someone in the district came to the realization that we need to make a change. He is someone who is willing to listen and attempt to make these vital changes. Some implementations that I suggested were the “Plain English Notifications”, red/green door placards, timed sounder turnoff, live streaming video, SRO’s, ALICE as well as the discontinuation of music playing throughout code reds. The Board of Education appears to be ignoring the growing problem of active shooters instead of preparing the children, teachers, and staff of our community’s schools. The harsh reality is that an active shooter in our community is no longer a “what-if” — the question is “when.”

If the ALICE program goes unused, the first thing people will ask after an active shooter event is, did my child and the teacher have the knowledge and skills needed to survive? Did The South Orange Maplewood School District provide them with the best chance by implementing their alternate less effective programs?

The answer as of today is, “No.”

Community members have publicly denounced the ALICE program as they feel the training will upset the children. On May 23, 2018 a SOMSD parent spoke during your public speaks. She stated, “It is not the responsibility of the teachers and children to be forced to use ALICE”. I strongly disagree. I want you to imagine exactly what the children will be thinking when gunshots ring out through the hallways of their school. Why should the teachers and students have only one option? Why should they lock the door, hide in a corner, and hope they survive? FBI statics show the majority of Active Shooter events occur in under 5 minutes and that would be approximately the time it would take for the South Orange Police to arrive on scene, assess, locate and stop the threat. Imagine how many rounds of ammunition could be fired in 5 minutes, how many people could die? The ALICE program trains the students and teachers to utilize those precious minutes prior to police arrival.

The Department of Homeland Security, along with The Federal Bureau of Investigation, recommend the “RUN, HIDE, AND FIGHT” procedure during an active shooting, which was created with adults in mind, not children. ALICE training allows for the individuals to have better option-based responses rather then being forced to follow “RUN, HIDE, AND FIGHT”. ALICE Training does not believe that actively confronting a violent intruder is the best method for ensuring the safety of those involved rather, counter is a strategy of last resort. Counter focuses on actions that create noise, movement, distance and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately. Creating a dynamic environment decreases the shooter’s chance of hitting a target and can provide the precious seconds needed in order to evacuate.

ALICE training is no scarier than any other type of training like fire drills. In those types of training, children are taught strategies for protecting themselves during a dangerous event. At first, these trainings procedures are uncomfortable, but the children soon become at ease with them. Preparing children for active shooter or violent intruder events is important. It can and should be done in a non threatening and age-appropriate manner. ALICE provides parents and teachers with this material, which enhances the ALICE concepts and makes them applicable to children of all ages.

Since 1999, out of all the ALICE trained schools, there have been 15 active shooter events with zero students or staff killed. The most recent event was on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at Dixon High School in Illinois. It has been proven that the ALICE program works and is recommended by hundreds of Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies. Although there is no such thing as an active shooter expert, those who are experienced in this field cannot dispute the optioned based fundamentals of ALICE and any attempt for an alternative program could be deadly. As of this date, ALICE has been taught to over one million people in 50 states; 116 School Districts in New Jersey are documented as trained by ALICE. There are 749 ALICE certified Instructors within the state of New Jersey and 519 ALICE trained organizations of varying degrees with 50 miles of the South Orange Maplewood School District. Nationwide there are 4,150 police and law enforcement agencies and 4,200 K-12 school districts that are ALICE trained.

Keep in mind that in the event that the district does not approve ALICE the South Orange Police Department WILL CONTINUE TO TRAIN OUR OFFICERS using ALICE protocol. We will begin teaching members of our police force in the newest techniques on SOLO officer entry into our schools and Seton Hall University’s campus. We believe this training will be vital for the safety of the students, staff and officers. The Township of South Orange Village feels so strongly on the success of ALICE, Chief Kyle Kroll along with myself attended a week long ALICE – RAIDER instructor course. It is in SOMSD’s best interest to align to the programs our police use, in my opinion.

Please be aware, I have no vested interest in the ALICE program. I do, however, have one personal interest: my wife is a teacher at Seth Boyden Elementary School and I wish for her to be trained in the MOST EFFECTIVE protocol in the unlikely event of an active shooter. In the best interest of the ALL children, staff and faculty of our schools I strongly urge that you, the Board Members of the South Orange Maplewood School District, vote on resolution 3735 (district wide ALICE training) in an open meeting on June 14, 2018 and publicly cast each vote.

Consider the consequences of your actions. Think about the lives you could save by voting “yes” to ALICE.

D/SGT. Steven A. Davenport
South Orange Police Department.

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