“We will be going in,” South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller said without hesitation when asked how his department will handle an incident involving an active shooter.
Should a situation arise where someone is armed and putting the public at risk, Miller insists his officers are trained to handle the situation. “We’re equipped, we’re ready both physically and mentally to go in and take care of it,” he said. “Our officers know that if they are alone, they need to go in alone. It there are two of them, they need to go in as a pair. Whatever number, they have to go with that number to address the issue.”
The issue typically is a ‘very violent situation toward gunfire,” noted Miller, who stressed that his officers are ready to face adversity at its worst should a shooting ever take place at a local school. “We’ve gone above and beyond what is expected,” he said. “We’ve trained with other agencies, and from what I’ve seen I’m very confident we’re able to go in and address a violent act on any one of our campuses.”
Miller, joined by Division Chief Chris Szenczi of the South Pasadena Fire Department and South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz, took on America’s hot topic, how to confront an active shooter during a community forum last week in the South Pasadena Library Community Room.
“The recent murders in Parkland, Florida, involving an active shooter event has raised many questions on police response before, during and after the tragedy happened,” Miller told a packed room, speaking on the mass shooting in mid-February by a lone gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.
Training for an active shooter incident was stepped up by the South Pasadena Police Department following a situation in August 2014. Police worked day and night for days that summer after receiving information about a pair of local high school students planning to kill South Pasadena High students and faculty, Police eventually arrested two teens.
“We take any emergency call at a school seriously,” Miller told the crowd. “Your children are our children. We care for their safety and well-being,”
During his remarks, the police chief asked members of the local police department, including officers, staff and dispatchers, along with fire department officials, to join him at the front of the room. “I believe it is important that our community meet the people who will respond to a help call at a school,” he told the crowd.
Miller fielded a multitude of questions, including one asking how parents should respond when they hear that an active shooter is on one of South Pasadena’s five public school campuses. “The best thing for parents to do is to stay away, because they are going to make it more difficult for us to manage that scene,” explained Miller. “We want them to put enough trust in us as a police agency that we’re going to take care of their kids.”
Another questioner wanted to know if the local police department conducts active shooter training with other agencies. “If there was an active shooter training at South Pasadena High, not only would you see us there,” explained Miller, “but you would see officers from Alhambra, Pasadena, San Marino…everyone rolling in to assist with that situation.”
Training includes the South Pasadena Fire Department “because they’re going to have to go in with us to render aid for those who are injured,” explained Miller, noting that his agency has taken the lead in training more than 380 officers in the San Gabriel Valley in how to combat an active shooter.
“Training is the key,” insisted Szenczi, when talking about the South Pasadena Fire Department’s role should the city be faced with an active shooter situation. “We will diligently train to be the best we can,” he said. “This is a law enforcement incident. We’re there to support their needs. We are more focused on the treatment and transportation of the victims to the hospital for the best chance of survival.”
Yantz said he was on the panel to support Miller, and responded to questions related to the local school system. “I want to reassure people that we take active shooter incidents very seriously and spend time and resources in addressing safety matters at the schools,” he said. “The police chief asked us to be a part of it, and absolutely, we’re glad we were. In looking at the dynamics, it has given me a good sense of the kind of relationship the police department has with our community, and the community’s relationship with the police department. We’re very fortunate to have our own department where those relationships can be maintained.”
Yantz assured those attending the forum that faculty and staff at all school sites have received training should an active shooter come on one of the district’s sites. Videos on “Run, Fight, Hide,” showing students how to survive an active shooter event, have also been shown to age-appropriate students. Other efforts, explained Yantz, have been taken by school officials to safeguard students against dangerous situations.
“It’s something that is often on our minds,” he said. “Our greatest limitation and obstacle really comes down to funding and time. It’s hard to take time away from what really our core mission is about, which is education, but it is imperative to do these drills.”
The superintendent said there’s a strong partnership among neighboring school districts, which often invite personnel to participate in active shooter training. “We send people out to watch and bring back what they’ve learned from those situations,” said Yantz.
Those situations generally aren’t good, but Miller wants the public to know, “We’re going in if anything bad is happening at one of our schools,” he stressed. “We’ll be going in should a critical incident occur. We’re ready.”