GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A former school security chief says schools need armed retired police officers on site to prevent tragedies similar to the shooting that killed 26 at a Connecticut elementary school.
"The idea behind all of our critical incident management plans that districts have is to slow down this person whose intent is to harm kids," said Robert Goethal.
Or, better yet, those plans would stop a shooter, said the retired Grand Rapids police captain who worked for a decade as Rockford Public Schools' security chief.
"This would deter, totally deter some kid like this 20-year-old in Connecticut," Goethal said. "He knows that standing in that hall are one or two security people who are armed also, and as soon as he walks through the door with his gun, they're going to have theirs out and be prepared to use them."
Goethal wrote Rockford's critical incident response plan in 1998, a year before the massacre at Columbine High School that killed 15. He then taught it to schools across the state, he said.
Some districts already have armed liaison officers from area police departments, but usually it's just an officer or two for an entire district.
In Forest Hills, one Kent County Sheriff's deputy covers 18 schools.
"Police departments can't afford to put police officers in every school building," explained Goethal.
Goethal said his proposal would require a new state law allowing only well-trained retired officers to carry guns in schools.
"They have years of firearms training, they have years of decision-making in critical situations," he said.
And, he said, it likely would require federal funding.
"You weigh that option versus spending millions to remodel buildings, putting steel doors on them, changing the fronts, it's a very small amount of money," he explained.
Goethal opposes a pending state law allowing anyone with a concealed weapons permit who undergoes enhanced training to carry a gun in no-gun zones like schools.
A trained officer, he said, would have had a better chance than a well-armed first-grade teacher of killing someone like Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
"Then there'd probably be 20 kids home with their parents right now for Christmas instead of being buried and having funerals," he said.
The shooting has school districts all over West Michigan scrambling to review their own security. Among the area superintendents who will be looking into security is Superintendent Daniel Behm of Forest Hills, who has ordered a full security review.
"Today, I think what you saw was a lot of staff people coming in and saying, 'All right, what are those procedures again?' And we need to be faithful to those procedures every single day," said Behm.
On Monday, at the request of 24 Hour News 8, Behm tested security at a side door at Forest Hills Central Middle School.
"This is a side door," he said. "This door should be locked." And it was. "It's locked there. This one's locked here. So that's good."
But seconds later, a student opened the door from the inside. Behm said that's a possible breach.
"Students shouldn't be doing that and opening a locked door, but my guess is he was recognizing one of us and trying to be helpful and polite," Behm said.
Tightened security measures were put in place after the Columbine shooting. In the years since, Behm admitted, security had slowly become a little lax.
"We've had some parents call and have some questions about are our doors locked at many school buildings," said Forest Hills Central Middle School Principal Gleen A. Mitcham.
Only the front doors are supposed to be unlocked during school hours for visitors.
"I think prior to last week's tragedy, you could find doors that from time to time were propped open with a piece of wood for convenience sake," said Behm.
Some districts, like Rockford, have vowed to train students and teachers even more for critical incidents, including armed intrusions. Many have sent notes home with parents listing security steps already in place, including surveillance cameras.
"Our first job as educators is to keep kids entrusted to our care safe and well. Our second job is to educate them," said Behm. "And we need to make sure that first job is job No. 1 each and every day."
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.