How DougCo authorities work to keep students and schools safe

Heather Willard

Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver

(Douglas County, Colo.) Two weeks after a shooter killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, Douglas County authorities are reviewing security measures to prevent a similar crisis here.

It’s a sadly familiar topic for the agencies that responded to the May 2019 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that killed one student and injured eight others at the charter school. Many security measures implemented in Douglas County schools since then, are now being revisited by the county commissioners, school board and school officials, and law enforcement agencies.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the Douglas County School District has nearly three-dozen commissioned school resource officers. The National Association of School Resource Officers and the Colorado Association of School Resource Officers trains the officers. All school officers are armed and their specialized training includes skills like how to quickly and safely enter a locked-down school.

Spurlock said his deputies constantly evaluate their patrol areas and look for new ways to protect students, staff and teachers. He met with school officers during regular training after the Uvalde shooting to discuss how the shooting might affect them.

“We train with equipment that they have at the school…so we’re not sitting around waiting for someone to do whatever, like unlock a door,” Spurlock said.

“So when there is a tragedy in the country, and even when we had ours in STEM, the goal is to stay vigilant at your job assignment and probably the most complicated, risky assignment is a school resource officer.”

Spurlock noted school officers deal with students from various backgrounds, the school’s structure and other factors not found in a regular patrol, which adds to the job’s stress.

To help add another layer of protection to the schools, police officers from Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Parker’s police departments operate a constant rotation of officers dropping by unannounced on campuses.

Jonathon Grusing, Douglas County School District’s director of safety and security, said school security goes beyond physical barriers, and involves creating a culture that fosters accurate and timely reports by students regarding at-risk students. The schools also provide resources including mental health professionals to students.

“We are partnered with law enforcement, and law enforcement does have to handle the more egregious things that happen in the school. We also have unarmed security in the schools,” Grusing said, adding that staff members work with front office staff and teachers and alert those groups of any possible mental health issues.

Grusing noted that he has been asked numerous times about implementing additional safety measures, such as stationing an officer with a rifle or other weapon at the front door to the schools.

“With Douglas County, that’s not our goal,” Grusing said. “It would be fearful for kids to show up to school, it would not present the right image to the community, and even if we did have that, that’s not a guarantee that that one fail-safe itself would be keeping our students and staff safe.”

In 2020 to help secure the schools, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners awarded $6 million for physical school safety and $823,000 for students’ mental health resources. When including charter and private school grants, the County awarded $7.7 million for physical school safety and $990,000 to support mental health for students. The Commissioners awarded another $1.3 million for innovation and emerging technology. In 2018, voters approved a bond measure that provided additional funds for security improvements.

Grusing said the district is implementing several projects to address mass attacks and possible gaps in security. He said the process is continuous, and although Uvalde is now the national focus, Colorado has experienced school shootings.. Grusing said specifics about security projects are confidential, to protect details from falling into the hands of possible attackers.

“Safety and security is not just about attacks — it’s how the schools function,” Grusing said. “We’re relying on mental health, operations and maintenance to help us keep things running, and then a lot of it is training, it's the human component gets lost. I’ve seen a lot of studies and the best way to help prevent an attack is a multidisciplinary threat assessment approach.”

He said the approach is to help ensure everyone has a way to comfortably and anonymously report information that could point to a possible attack.

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

Broomfield, CO

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