On March 29th, the Octorara Area Board of Director’s received a collective email from Dr. Newcome. There was an incident on the Octorara campus. An unwelcome trespasser was spotted. The West Fallowfield Police were called, but they were not on duty. Luckily, the armed Signal 88 security officer was ready and leaped into action. The intruder was quickly found and a foot chase ensued. The individual was about to get away. So, the security officer drew his weapon, then shot and killed the intruder.
Who was this monster who forced our security officer to use his firearm? A raccoon. It was a small, furry critter who was on our property, behind the High School and near the Agricultural Building, probably looking for food. Last year, during a similar situation, the District contacted animal control. The advice they received was to let the local police department handle the situation. From the memory of that conversation with an unnamed and unaccountable person on the phone, this year our District jumped to the decision to use our security officer as pest control and authorized the use of a firearm to handle the situation. Goodness knows how many countless lives were saved as a result. (I hope I don’t need to explain sarcasm.)
It took me a few days to process, but this was my written response:
I had to take some time to think about this. I am not comfortable with a discharge of a firearm on or near the campus to deal with a rodent. From the account, Pete and Rick were able to “shepherded the raccoon off the campus” and the animal does not seem to have been any kind of threat. Regardless of any training or experience, firing a weapon does have inherent safety risks. Ultimately, I believe this was reckless and inappropriate.
I presume, since it was not noted in the email, that parents were not made aware of this action. I believe it is important to make the public aware of what happened. Moreover, I think we need to have a public discussion about what constitutes the proper use of a firearm by our security officer. Personally, I don’t believe it is ever appropriate for the security officer to even draw his weapon without an imminent threat to students and staff.
The security officer has an intended purpose of dealing with active shooters and acts of violence. He is not there for pest control. In the kindest terms, this incident has me pissed off.
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun raccoon is a good guy with a gun.
At yesterday’s Facilities Committee Meeting, I pushed a discussion. Here are some of the details.
1. Your Right to Know – I believe the public (generally) and parents (specifically) have a right to know whenever there is an incident involving our security using his firearm, regardless of the reason. Does the rest of the Board? Obviously not. DIspite raising my concerns, the incident was not made a topic of discussion, and I had to push a conversation at the end of the Facilities Committee Meeting. The rest of the Board seemed content with letting the incident pass without making parents aware it ever happened. How about letting parents know about an incident with a possibly rabid animal? Nope… it all needs to be hush-hush.
2. The Changed Story – Keep in mind, Dr. Newcome had 8 days to reply to my email to clarify or correct his original story. He did not. Moreover, he only changed his story after I insisted on a discussion. So, what really happened? Who knows.
The email that Board Members received on March 29th stated, “a raccoon that was acting strangely was cited near the rear of the high school – near the agriculture building.” The story the Board was told last night was that the raccoon was discovered in the parking lot, and it was hissing, foaming at the mouth, and acting aggressively toward an employee. These come across as two different stories, don’t they?
Moreover, the original description of events stated that raccoon was “shepherded off the campus”. Words have meaning. One would have to think a highly educated person, like Dr. Newcome, would specifically select a word like “shepherded” with intent. The word “shepherded” means to guide or herd like a shepherd. Well, by last night, the story changed and the description was the raccoon actually stood its ground and required considerable force to move.
3. Developing a “Use of Firearm” Policy – My response to the incident stated that I thought we needed a public discussion to define the proper use of a firearm. I came to last night’s meeting with two policy examples from other school districts, one from Downingtown and the other from Pottsville.
Downingtown’s policy specifically defined the role of their officers and includes a statement not allowing them to perform other duties. The Pottsville example is a “Use of Force” that not only defines the appropriate use of a firearm but also force more generally. No other member of our Board had any interest in limiting the use of a firearm by our security officer.
4. It Is Rabies! Or Is It? – Some members of the Board stated that the shooting had to happen because of the risk of rabies, stating everyone knows that raccoons are the animals which spread the decease. We had to do it to keep the children safe. However, I cited Chester County’s website that identifies “confirmed reports of rabid rabbits, possums, groundhogs, foxes, and squirrels.” Moreover, last year’s report of confirmed cases included a cat and a cow.
Since rabies is a virus that exists in saliva and is transmitted from animal to animal by biting and/or scratching, this means it is unlikely our raccoon is the only animal in the area infected… if it actually was. What is the District doing to protect the children from rabid rabbits, squirrels, and other critters? Nothing! Does the Board want anything done to make sure other infected animals don’t present a risk? No!
The Inherent Risk
Ultimately, it is apparent that most of the Board and Administration did not want this firearm incident discussed publicly. And, when I made it a public discussion, were willing to say anything in order to move past it as quickly as possible. They don’t want parents informed whenever there is an incident with a gun. They don’t want to have a firearm policy discussion. They don’t want limits placed on our armed security or the use of force.
The one thing that we need to all keep in mind is, we went from a gun on school grounds as an extremely unlikely event to an absolute certainty. There is no shortage of news reports in which trained professionals have had accidents, made mistakes, or used poor judgment. Worse yet, there is no shortage of stories where an unarmed person was shot and killed because of a trained professional made a bad decision and used excessive force.
One one hand, our Board wants to justify the armed security guard by propagating fear of an unlikely active shooter incident. On the other, they take an it-can’t-happen-here attitude when it comes to a misuse of a firearm, the accidental shooting of a student, or the killing of an unarmed person. The argument for armed security was that if something ever happened, we would be culpable for not having armed security. But the Board is unwilling to see that they will also be responsible for an injury or death resulting from a misuse of a firearm by our security.
Regardless of whether you are for or against the armed security officer, doesn’t it make sense that we create policies that define security’s role and the use of a firearm? This is not the first incident of a raccoon on the property over the last 50 or so years. However, it is the first firearm incident with the armed security guard. Now is the time to discuss the issues that the Board did not have the foresight to address when armed security was put in place. Don’t you agree?