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School Marshals aim to increase safety at local schools

The premise behind the School Marshal Program between the Thompson School District and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office is to provide more security at local elementary schools in an attempt to thwart dangerous opportunities before they arise.

“This is about your school; this is about your children,” said Larimer County Sheriff’s Sergeant and School Marshal program coordinator, Jeff Vanhook, at a meeting, Monday, at Berthoud Elementary School held to answer parent’s questions.

About 25 people attended the meeting and when it was over most parents seemed pleased with the effort to ensure students safety.

The School Marshal program

The School Marshal program will provide dedicated law-enforcement presence and enhanced school security through utilizing reserve sheriff's deputies; volunteer agents, who will be armed and will patrol the school areas by walking the campuses, both inside and outside the buildings.

District superintendent, Stan Scheer, who’s been a driving force behind the program’s development, said that students’ safety should always be the top priority.

“The opportunity for this to happen creates tremendous positive potential in terms of security,” Scheer said.

Deputies won’t intervene in normal school incidents where administration would typically handle the situation. The deputies will only intervene in a life threatening incident or where serious bodily injury may occur, Vanhook said.

“Our primary objective is to be a presence to deter the criminal element from entering these schools and harming the students, teachers, administrators or parents,” he said.

This pilot program is the first of its kind in the state and, as far Vanhook is aware, and it could be the first of its kind in the nation. He indicated that this program illustrates the way law enforcement is adapting to the threats of the time.

“I think law enforcement is moving a little bit in a different direction,” Vanhook said.

School related incidents have increased over the past 15 years. Most notably is the Columbine High School tragedy, which occurred on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, where coincidentally Scheer was the superintendent of schools at the time. Columbine changed the way law enforcement responds to serious incidents, but similar tragic events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which occurred on Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members were gunned down by a 20-year-old Adam Lanza, has changed the scope of protection.

“Sandy Hook opened us up a little bit,” Vanhook said. “We’re not just getting our high schools and middle schools attacked; we’re getting our elementary schools attacked. So I think it’s fair to say that we are transforming a little bit, and I think we still have the same responsibility as before, but we have additional responsibilities to the children.”

After Sandy Hook, Scheer started the conversation with the Sheriff Justin Smith about the elementary schools’ vulnerability.

“We now have a plan in place that is constantly trying to anticipate what the potentials are within the community, and our elementary schools are the most vulnerable,” Scheer said.

The reserve deputies

Currently, there are approximately 25 reserve deputies with the sheriff’s office, some of whom will participate in the School Marshal program. The reserve program has been in existence with the sheriff’s office for over 40 years, according to Vanhook, and act similar in fashion to volunteer firefighters. The sheriff’s office utilizes the reserve deputies during a variety of incidents, from crime scene security to bigger incidents such as the High Park Fire that occurred in 2012 and the floods that occurred in the fall of 2013.

“These are individuals from the community who want to volunteer their time,” Vanhook said.

All reserve deputies go through a rigorous hiring process, similar to what is required for all full-time patrol deputies. Each officer completes 253-hours of training through the sheriff’s office Reserve Academy program and also must complete an internal Field Training Officer program as well. Additionally, these deputies have received and completed focused training for the School Marshal program.

And since the reserve deputies are all volunteers, the program isn’t costing tax payers or the sheriff’s office.

“They already have the training, they have the equipment; the only thing it’s costing is their time,” Vanhook said.

Program implementation

The pilot program is scheduled to roll out the week of April 21 and will operate in conjunction with the district's successful School Resource Officer (SRO) program maintained in partnership with the sheriff’s office in Berthoud and with the Loveland PD in Loveland. The schools that will benefit from the pilot program include Berthoud Elementary and Ivy Stockwell Elementary as well as Coyote Ridge Elementary, Cottonwood Plains Elementary, Big Thompson Elementary and Carrie Martin Elementary near Loveland.

According to Thompson School District security director, Rick Frei, the deputies will always be armed and ready to deal with any real situation that presents itself.

“They are always able, if necessary, to carry out the task that any police-certified law enforcement officer would do,” Frei said. At first, the deputies will wear more formal uniforms, similar to a uniformed sheriff’s deputy. But as the program continues, the deputies may be in plain clothes.

The program is designed to work like the Federal Air Marshal Program, according to Vanhook, where the agents aren’t recognizable and blend in well. However, deputies will be required to check in with school administration upon arrival and have some sort of badge or identification while at the school. It won’t be as if they are under cover, and that’s the point.

“That is what we want for our schools,” Vanhook said. “You don’t know if there is an officer in that school or not.”

Since the reserve deputies are volunteers, there won’t be a deputy at each school for the entire day either; the amount of time at the schools will vary depending on the deputy’s availability, Vanhook said.

And, the same deputies won’t necessarily be stationed at a specific school; rather they will rotate from school to school so they have a greater knowledge of each of the schools layouts and personnel in case of an emergency.

Some schools, such as Carrie Martin Elementary, Vanhook explained, has had a law enforcement presence in the schools for over a year already. So, while this may be a new program, they’ve been testing it with reserve deputies for a while now. Still, that doesn’t mean that the program will be perfect from the start.

“This is a pilot program,” Vanhook said. “There is going to be some modifications to it. There may be some concerns of the parents; we want to address those concerns and modify the program if needed.”


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