Preparation, training aim to keep schools safe
On Tuesday, a report from the Division of Public Safety and Department of Diné Education showed they are working to keep schools on the Navajo Nation safe in case of an active shooter situation.
The discussion was brought up due to a recent shooting that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, at Robb Elementary School where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.
Police Commander Emmett Yazzie spoke about his own training with active shooters.
“I went to a rigorous active shooter instructor school and the program is called, ‘Type 1 Consulting’ also known as Lone Wolf,” he said.
There are two different types of responses that the department engages in, he said.
“We have unarmed response, which is usually going to be the staff and sometimes the kids and then some security officers only because they’re not armed,” Yazzie said.
“Then an armed response would be us (police department) when we are going in and hunting for the killer or killers and we engage,” he said, “and we try to stop that shooter as fast as possible.”
The department also changed their tactic when it comes to how they introduce themselves to hunt down the shooter.
At a school shooting, Yazzie said there will be a minimum of two officers going into the building and there will be no waiting for a SWAT team, a commander or anyone who is of higher ranking to give instructions.
“Once we know where the shooter is at, the first officer that’s on scene, the second officer that’s on scene, they make a quick plan and then they enter to stop or neutralize the shooter,” Yazzie said.
Before the pandemic, the police department trained the following schools and businesses in how to act during an active shooting situation:
- Ganado Unified School District
- Many Farms School District
- Rock Point Community School
- Shonto Preparatory school
- Kayenta Boarding School
- Kayenta Hospital
- Navajo Judicial Branch
- Chinle Unified Schools security officers
- Diné College
- Window Rock School District bus drivers
- Chinle Police District
- Window Rock Police District
- Kayenta Police District
- Chinle Chapter House
When Yazzie does active shooter response trainings, one of the things he expands on is weapons identification.
“So, what’s the difference between a handgun, what’s the difference between a semi-automatic rifle, what does an AR-15 look like, what does a SKS look like, and also the ammunition identification,” he said.
This is important to teach because responding units need to know what type of armor to wear and how to prepare.
“So, if we know a shooter is using a nine-millimeter handgun or forty-five caliber handgun, then I don’t need additional equipment on me to respond to that,” Yazzie said. “My current soft body armor that I wear underneath my uniform shirt can stop those rounds.”
Along with weapon identification, the program also teaches staff and kids how to clear a hallway, how to exit a room, how to do quick peeks, how to barricade and hide.
“The difference between cover and concealment is going to be important when we teach our programs, not only in the schools but also I think it’s important that we have businesses and even the Navajo Nation government partake in some of these trainings,” Yazzie said.
Lt. Donnie Kee, with the Navajo Police Training Academy, added input since he was on duty during an active shooter event when two students lost their lives at Aztec High.
Kee said in anticipation of these terrible events, relationships are one thing that aids in preparation for active shooter situations.
“It boils down to relationships,” he said. “Between emergency services, not only law enforcement but mental health, emergency medical services, the fire department and the police department.
“Relationships between them and the schools are really what help to get schools and communities prepared for these types of events,” he said.
Police Chief Daryl Noon said he believes the department has a great relationship with Navajo Nation schools and that a safe school committee should be created.
“As far as relationships go, I don’t really care who represents the school, we’ll work with any school staffing allows,” Noon said. “I think that Lieutenant Kee brought up a very good point in the fact that I think what we need to do is develop a safe schools committee regardless if it’s a state school, BIE school or whatever.”
Kee said while being on duty during the Aztec High shooting, he learned a lot from the event.
“They (Aztec Municipal Schools District) were very progressive in their approach to school safety,” Yazzie said. “A lot of the things they did on the prevention side of things helped, unfortunately we still lost two students that day, but because of the amount of preparation, planning, and training and cooperative effort between emergency resources and the schools, I think that led to the low number of individuals hurt and killed in that incident.”
He has also learned that how much emphasis is put on school safety contributes to preparation training. This is because the police department’s role is “relatively limited when it comes to active shooter response.”
“With Navajo Police, we are somewhat limited by manpower in our constant and daily involvement in schools which is a necessary part in the prevention side of things,” he said.
However, he believes there are things that can be done to better prepare Navajo Nation schools should a situation like this ever happen.
He believes that collaborative efforts between all emergency services and the schools is very important for preparation.