Deputy chief and school resource officers talk about safety and building a bridge with students

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)– Ever wonder why every door in a school in Allen County has a number on it now?

It guides responding officers in an emergency or when there’s trouble.

And should there be an active shooter on school premises, a lone officer will no longer set up a perimeter and wait for the SWAT team.

The officer is trained to go at it alone, if necessary to save lives.

That’s what Sgt. Kevin Neher of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday in reaction to the massacre of 19 second, third and fourth graders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas Tuesday.

“It goes back to Columbine and this community felt it was really important, not only law enforcement but with the different school corporations and the administrators to come to the table and talk through some of these issues,” Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger said Wednesday during a sit-down interview with him, Neher, Carroll High School School resource officer Eric Butler, and Cpl. Adam Griffith, SRO supervisor.

Hershberger said in the last 20 years as the number of school shootings has mounted, the department has added more school resource officers.

Neher who is a school safety specialist said programs are tailored to the age of students.

“How you’re going to talk to a first or second grader is going to be a lot different than how you’re going to talk to a high schooler,” Neher said. “We do have those conversations with students and staff on the preparations.

In the last two decades, school security is tighter, they said. You can’t just walk in the front door.  You have to be buzzed in. And all schools have active camera surveillance.

The school massacre at Uvalde, Texas has put school security once again in the spotlight.

But the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and Fort Wayne Police Department constantly train and strategize for any emergency.

Besides conducting active shooter drills, they talk to students and give them tips on students who may be having a bad day. Drills are followed by a debriefing, Butler said.

“It’s on their mind. There’s a lot of curiosity. How much is out there, what really happened. Could that happen here? How would we be different? They’re not afraid to talk to me and sometimes it’s point-blank,” Butler said. The school runs informed response drills monthly that include fire, tornado, and other emergencies. “They’re aware of the emergencies that arise.”

They also said the old philosophy of trying to hide somewhere has changed to allow people to strategize: hide, run or fight back, Griffith said.

In the 20 years since the Columbine school shooting, the Indiana Department of Education has required each school district to have an Indiana School Safety Specialist and the county’s School Safety Commission, which began in 1999,  meets monthly to update information and share tips.

And the Indiana Department of Education requires each school to conduct an active shooter drill within the first 90 days of the start of School.