Police and schools have plan in place for shooting scenario

Sometimes in the morning, Wilton police School Resource Officer Richard Ross wakes up thinking this could be the day an active shooter shows up at the door of Wilton High School, where he works.

He is the first armed line of defense against such an intrusion.

“It’s something that crosses my mind,” Ross told The Bulletin recently.

In the wake of a foiled threatened school shooting in neighboring Westport, the Wilton Police Department confirmed it has a policy in place for such an incident if it were to happen here, at Wilton High School or another school.

The response includes a specialized team of officers.

“The Wilton Police Department does have a policy in place for its response to an active aggressor incident,” said Capt. Robert Cipolla.

As for the school resource officer, who is armed and trained to defend in such situations, “he has the same training as any of our officers,” said Cipolla.

He functions as much more than armed security for the school, though. He teaches classes in subjects including drugs, and builds positive relationships with students.

For active aggressor incidents, Cipolla said, the department collaborates with other emergency services and the Board of Education in formalizing the response policies and procedures.

“As a police department, our first and foremost priority in responding to an active aggressor incident is to protect lives by immediately pursuing, locating, and neutralizing the threat,” Cipolla said.

He said the department has officers who are members of the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team (SWRERT), which is a regional “SWAT” team comprised of the towns of Darien, Westport, Trumbull, Easton, Monroe, and Wilton.

The department also has access to regional resources and assets, he said.

The department has school resource officers at Middlebrook and Wilton High School.

In response to recent events, the school district is intensifying its efforts to ensure that plans, procedures and protocols are at the forefront for all staff, said Dr. Kevin Smith, superintendent of schools, in an email message to parents Feb. 28.

The mental health and emergency operations teams in each of the schools continue to convene and to review and strengthen practices, Smith said. “While we have strong physical security measures in place in each building, we continue to review and refine our practices.”

As part of that work, the district has implemented the following recommendations:

  • Keep classroom doors locked.

  • Add appropriate window coverings.

  • Strengthen first-floor exterior glass.

  • Expand camera coverage.

  • Assign exterior numbers to first-floor spaces.

  • Ensure mass communication capability.

  • Adopt consistent responses to categories of emergencies: lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter. All of the students and staff practice these drills.

“It is important to note that our local first responders are critical partners in the work of school safety. Our Wilton police will continue to have a heightened presence on our campus and we maintain open and robust communication,” Smith said.

“These are trying times, and as a community we need to continue to come together to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all of our children,” the superintendent said.  

Many students continue to experience heightened anxiety and have expressed questions and concerns about the safety of the schools, Smith said.

After the incident in Westport, in which an arrest was made and numerous guns were seized, each principal convened a faculty meeting to debrief faculty about the incident and address questions and concerns related to school safety and security.

Chief among these items was the understanding that no concern is too small, Smith said. Staff members were reminded that any concern should be shared by a student with an adult. When a concern is shared, the district utilizes a formal threat assessment protocol that details a sequence of steps to understand the nature of the concern and provide an appropriate response.