Athol Police responds to Parkland

  • Athol Police Chief Russell Kleber Athol Daily News/File Photo

  • -30- AP CUTLINE: Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Lisa Jansen sets up a picture At the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, showing AR-15 type weapons and ammunition found at a student's home after he threatened a school shooting at El Camino High School in Whittier. Authorities says the 17-year-old student has been arrested after threatening to open fire at the California school and his adult brother faces five weapons charges after weapons were found in their home. Sarah Reingewirtz—Sarah Reingewirtz/via AP

Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2018

ATHOL — Police Chief Russell Kleber says he has sensed a change in the mood of the country since the latest school shooting in Florida.

“This event in Florida struck a different nerve in our country,” he said. “The kids are demanding protection. We have to make some changes to our laws that may not be very popular. We need to open lines of communication and accessibility. We have to do so at the schools, and assure people we’re doing something. Safety and security is our first priority.”

Many throughout the country have expressed dismay over the 17 people who died in the shooting in a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.

Many have expressed their outrage. Communities have been left devastated.

There have been eight school shootings since the beginning of this year, and 25 since the attack on Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 that left 17 young people dead, according to reports.

Seventeen were most recently killed by a gunman wielding an AR-15-style assault rifle. The shooting has galvanized debate over gun laws and school safety, a ban on assault rifles, and whether teachers should carry guns in school.

People are demanding action from their leaders.

Safety first

Kleber said he has started an initiative to conduct briefings for specific groups in town on what the police department is doing to keep the community safe.

He said he has developed a lesson plan and reached out to Athol-Royalston Regional School Superintendent Darcy Fernandes.

He said he has offered to conduct a one-hour block of instruction at Athol schools.

Kleber said Fernandes is in the process of reviewing the materials. An answer is anticipated within a week or so.

The instruction would be given to faculty, staff and students at the middle and high schools, but just the staff at the elementary school.

Kleber, who in the past has developed presentations and instructional programs for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, has named the lesson plan Athol KIDS: Keeping Innocents Defended and Safe.

“That’s what kids are. Innocents.” said Kleber, “And my job is to protect the community and the students.”

He said his instructional goals are to convey general school safety strategies and training already in place.

He said he will reference strategies and trainings from the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training program, and the Run-Hide-Fight. program model from Houston. “Although it’s not always in that order,” said Kleber, “sometimes you have to fight first.”

Police: ever present, ever watchful

Another talking point will be the police presence in and around the schools. “We have regular patrols, detectives, myself, and others — all keeping an eye on the schools at various times of the day, Monday through Friday,” said Kleber. “I can guarantee that.” He wants the sight of his police officers at the schools to be a reassuring thing, not a jarring incident where the students are worried that something has happened that requires an officer’s presence.

“If I have to go uptown for any reason, I will often just pull into the high school parking lot and sit and observe things for awhile. All my officers do that on a regular, intermittent basis.” I want to be more visible at the schools at all times. “We’re approachable. We’re the good guys,” said Kleber.

During the presentation he will ask, and have answered, why teachers teach and officers protect, to get the conversation going.

“Police work to me is a calling,” said Kleber, “I am here to serve and protect.”

He will discuss the responsibilities of the teachers and staff, in the daily protection of the children.

“The first thing they do is take attendance. They know their students. They know when someone is having a bad day. Teachers have already received some sort of training in the event of a lockdown — to lock door, pull shades and hide the kids.” he said.

He will also discuss the responsibilities of the school resource officer and the rest of the department, noting, if an incident does happen, that officer can act immediately. “We’re not waiting for a tactical team, a special unit, or the K9 unit. We have immediate response. We are going to seek out the threat - it’s risky - but that’s part of being an officer.”

He emphasized that such an incident is extremely rare, “but when it does happen, we all feel it. When Columbine happened, the officers waited for the tactical units to assemble, and Florida took four minutes. We have to get there immediately.”

He will also talk about the importance of “See Something — Say Something.” Tell a teacher, a staff member, the resource officer, your parents or caregivers.”

Kleber said his intention is to build relationships, keep the lines of communication open, be visible and available, and to assure teachers and staff that they are keeping an eye on things.

He added, the police will also be doing things that the public will never see to keep them safe, “But we are doing them.”

Other sectors of the community

The Chief has also reached out to the members of the Council on Aging, who welcomed such a program. This session will be held at the Athol Senior Center, 82 Freedom Street on Thursday, March 8, at 10:15 a.m.

He has been in contact with the Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, who requested training for the town’s employees.

The Chief will also reach out to the houses of worship in the community, not individually, but through the Interfaith Clergy Association and the North Quabbin Ecumenical Group, to see how best to approach training in that sector.

He has also reached out to the business community through the Chamber of Commerce, and plans do a training with the townspeople, including parents of school-aged children.

Kleber said anyone seeking information on the lesson plan may contact him at the police station.

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