Southfield officials reassess school safety as summer recess begins

By: Andy Kozlowski | Southfield Sun | Published June 29, 2022


SOUTHFIELD — A month on from the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, officials at school districts and police departments nationwide continue to process the event and look at their own preparedness for the worst-case scenario.

Those in charge at Southfield Public Schools and the Southfield Police Department said that parents should feel reassured their kids will be in good hands once summer recess ends and the new school year begins.

Jennifer Green, the superintendent of Southfield Public Schools, said in an email that her district began a complete review and update of its emergency operations plan following the shooting at Oxford High School last fall, which included updating the district’s protocols and training for staff, as well as looking at physical campuses to assess where resources needed to be allocated to improve security.

“Every building within the district, including our elementary schools, have security cameras and remote entry devices on main entrances. This allows building staff to determine if the person requesting entry is authorized to be in the building,” Green said.

She also noted that the district has opened a school-based health center through its partnership with Ascension Hospital, which will provide counseling to students and the community at large who are dealing with personal issues — a way to possibly resolve those struggles so that they “don’t evolve into violent incidents,” Green said.

The superintendent also lauded the district’s “strong relationship” with Southfield’s police and fire departments, who closely collaborated with her team in updating the emergency operations plan. Green said that police from Southfield and Lathrup Village recently facilitated an active shooter training session for the building-level leaders in the district, as well as the teachers and district-contracted security officers.

“This training will be ongoing and given to every employee of the district,” Green said. “Southfield Public Schools is committed to the safety of all of our students and staff. We view that as our first priority while they are in our care.”

She added that the district is also planning major capital investments in its physical infrastructure that will include upgrades to security systems at each campus.

Elvin Barren, the chief of the Southfield Police Department, said in an email that whenever mass shooting events occur locally or nationally, his department conducts a “critical debrief” to look at the factors that led up to the incident, as well as the police response.

“This assessment is important because it affords us the opportunity to enhance our training, tactics and procedures by learning from the positive and/or negative findings,” Barren said, noting that the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High changed the protocols for law enforcement nationwide, so that the initial responding officers are expected to immediately locate and neutralize the threat rather than waiting for SWAT or additional units.

“Unfortunately, the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, revealed that law enforcement still has lessons that need to be learned — a few of those lessons being the importance of proper communication amongst law enforcement, and the immediate need to confront the suspects without delay,” Barren said. “The Southfield Police Department will not wait! Our officers are trained and equipped to address active shooter encounters. In fact, our annual training is conducted inside of a vacant school building.”

Barren described how his officers are required to successfully complete a series of rigorous training scenarios that are designed to evaluate their level of situational awareness and tactics. Additionally, police departments in Oakland County receive Active Assault Training through the Oakland County Tactical Response Consortium, or OAKTAC, which helps ensure uniformity of response across jurisdictions.

The chief also said his department and the Southfield Public Schools are in constant communication when it comes to matters of emergency preparedness. When a threat is received, police immediately launch a multilayered investigation that searches for the origin of the threat and determines whether it’s credible.

“However, regardless of how the threats are classified, when the suspect is identified, a warrant request will be submitted to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office for a charging decision,” Barren said, adding that police officers will also maintain a visible presence at the affected school during those times in order to deter copycat criminals.

The chief said residents also need to do their part to help keep the schools safe.

“I will continue to ‘beat the drum’ that parents and guardians who own guns are tasked with a shared responsibility of keeping our schools safe,” Barren said. “Throughout the country, there are too many examples of irresponsible gun owners, both intentionally and unintentionally, allowing their children to have access to their firearms. Gun ownership is a huge responsibility — all firearms must be locked and properly stored. Please understand — irresponsible gun ownership will result in criminal charges.”