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Safety symposium is Wednesday

by Merrie Leininger

Recognizing that schools have increasingly become a target for angry and disturbed students, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and School District responded by working together to make the schools safer.

Following the April shootings in Littleton, Colo., the two groups decided the sheriff’s department should have more access to schools in case of an emergency.

SWAT team members received blueprints and toured each of the schools. They also worked out a code so all staff and sheriff’s officers would know how serious a situation is right away.

After a year of organization, Douglas High School peer court began hearing cases of fighting and bullying.

And in July, the school board told Superintendent Pendery Clark that the school safety task force should be reorganized. The task force originated in 1993 out of concerns about gangs, drugs and alcohol in the schools.

At the first meeting, Clark gave a history of the group, then participants jumped right in and decided to hold a parent symposium on school violence.

The symposium, which will be held today at 6:30 p.m. at DHS, will feature keynote speakers, Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone and Deputy Steve Davis.

In looking for a keynote speaker who would draw a large number of parents, Sheriff Ron Pierini suggested the group contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, who responded to the Littleton shooting and did the investigation.

Pierini knew Douglas County Communications Director Dick Mirgon was old friends with Sheriff Stone. Mirgon helped get in touch with Stone, who was a Lakewood police officer when Mirgon worked for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 20 years ago. They met during the course of an emergency call.

Mirgon is the godfather to Stone’s daughter and worked as a campaign manager for Stone’s first run at the county commission before Mirgon moved to Douglas County eight years ago.

– Speaking engagements. Deputy Davis said while the department and the town is “far from being back to normal,” he and Stone have responded to numerous requests from law enforcement agencies to speak following the tragedy.

“People are so afraid and want to hear from people with experience. They want to know how we dealt with the situation after it happened and different problems that popped up. I have spoken to 10 or 12 law enforcement agencies – and I know the sheriff has done several – and I’ve got several more to go,” Davis said.

He said while they can’t tell a community what to do to prevent a school shooting, “that’s not to say we don’t have some great ideas to implement certain policy changes or programs.”

Davis said while Jefferson County has had to take some criticism of how the sheriff’s office responded to the shooting, the department takes it as part of the situation.

“There’s not any type of situation where there’s not going to be some criticism, but we have to look at the actions we took and the policies we have, and we did it exactly how we were trained to handle it,” Davis said.

Fifteen people died at Columbine High School after two students open fired on campus, then killed themselves.

– Local action. In order to be better prepared in case of school violence, Sgt. Stan Lamb, Deputy Dan Coverly, Lt. Mike Biaggini and DHS Principal Bev Jeans attended a one-day conference on school violence in Los Angeles in June. The conference was held by Gavin DeBecker, Inc., which specializes in threat assessments for the CIA, the presidents and their families and other federal agencies.

Jeans and Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School Principal Charlie Condron have used the information given there about the profile of school shooters to teach their staff and the administrators of other schools what to look for.

That information will also be relayed to parents during one of the two break-out sessions held tonight for parents’ knowledge. “Signs and symptoms of the teen avenger – What you need to know,” and “Steps for prevention – What you need to do” are the sessions designed to help parents.

County and school personnel will be on hand to answer parents’ questions afterward, when refreshments are being served. During the symposium, child care will be provided.