Moose Jaw authorities have been taking a proactive approach to violent crimes with VTRA — Violence Threat Risk Assessment — protocols in order to prevent crises similar to the Friday morning school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“We’re trying to predict or recognize these types of incidents and people prior to an incident actually happening,” said Sgt. Cliff Froehlich with the Moose Jaw Police Service. “Rather than waiting for it to happen and responding, we’re working with the teaching staff to recognize people who fit the category.
“In the schools, we have what’s called VTRA and this is the training that our police offiers who are involved in the schools have done and also some of the staff at the schools have done,” said Froehlich.
The VTRA training was devised by Dr. Kevin Cameron of the Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response following a school shooting in Taber, Alta., in 1999.
It equips police and school staff with the ability to detect early warning signs and intervene with students who may have personal issues in order to prevent escalation, Froehlich said.
“It just teaches us what to look for and how to recognize potential issues with individuals and how to address what concerns we have prior to them doing anything that’s going to cause risk or violence in the school.”
Froehlich said police officers and staff are trained to watch for red flags in order to head potential issues off at the pass.
“If a young student has brought a weapon to school, we don’t just take it away,” he said. “We take it away and then we look at the big picture — why he brought (the weapon) to school, what’s his home life like, his school life, his social life ... we try to determine the cause and we try to address that issue.”
But the police don’t stop with simple preventative measures, Froehlich said. There also exists procedures for when things escalate beyond control.
“The schools all have their lockdown procedures that they practice and rehearse,” he said.
“We don’t just call them lockdown procedures,” said Derrick Huschi, superintendent of school operations for the Prairie South School Division (PSSD). “We also have safe school protocols (and) VTRA protocols.
“All of our administration staff have been trained,” he said, adding that when red flags are raised, police are notified and the school works in tandem with officers and other authorities to resolve the issue.
If an incident should arise, Froehlich noted, the police do have specific tactics that they can employ to resolve it.
“It’s called rapid deployment. Basically, if there is an incident within a school, we have our officers attend and we immediately deploy to the situation,” he said. “We are on scene as soon as possible and, depending on how the situation evolves from there, we’ll determine our next steps.
“If the intruder were to barricade himself or herself in a classroom then, of course, our steps would be different,” added Froehlich. “But if we know (the intruder’s) location, we immediately deploy our officers to that location to deal with the situation.”
Froehlich noted that extreme situations rarely arise, but is worried about the nature of the media coverage surrounding the Newtown shooting.
“All of those kids who were on the bubble are seeing this (coverage) and it’s just one more thing to keep that wheel churning,” he said.