Discussing threats of violence in schools

by | Mar 13, 2023 | Campus, Features | 0 comments

Late in the evening of June 2, 2022, Bill Romanchuk, superintendent of schools for the Black Gold School Division received a call from Leduc Composite High School’s principal. They received word from the RCMP about threats of gun violence directed towards the school. The FBI, who notified the RCMP, had been monitoring an online chat platform when they identified an individual who was making claims about gun violence in relation to the high school.

The RCMP’s alert of the threats initiated the closures of both École Leduc Jr. High School and Leduc Composite High School to keep everyone safe. It’s hard to say whether or not the online chat room claims had validity, but the effects left on members of the school are lasting. “The police were taking it seriously,” Romanchuk adds. “We were prepared, absolutely…. This is the stuff that we drill for quite often. We have a couple of protocols; we have teachers and administrators who are trained in violent threat risk assessment.”

These events can leave staff, students, and families with a sense of fear to return. Romanchuk adds that parents of the school’s students were grateful for the police and school board’s engagement in looking out for their kids. “We have teams here that will go out to the schools….we have people who are trained in grief and loss and we send them there,” he says. There doesn’t need to be a physical act of gun violence to cause emotional damage and discomfort to individuals. “It’s important to reassure the public,” Romanchuk says. “We (the school board and the RCMP) work together. At the end of the day, we can say that…we took the precaution.”

The Leduc school shooting threats are not the only case of gun violence threats in the province over the past year. The Edmonton Police Service’s (EPS) firearms statistics revealed that in 2022, there were a total of 165 shooting occurrences involving shotguns, rifles, or pistols, which is a 10 per cent increase from 2021. Of the shooting occurrences, 141 were believed to have been specifically targeted and 90 of them resulted in injuries. There were 1127 firearms seized by police officers which did not escalate to shootings.

In late 2022, there was an investigation by the Edmonton Police Service Firearms Investigation Unit (FIU) into the many shootings reported in the city that occurred throughout the year. Out of the 12 clearly targeted shootings, nine resulted in injuries, and eight of those had the potential to harm bystanders.

The MacEwan security department explains how the rise of mental health issues and lack of support for individuals who are struggling have both been deemed as factors for the incline of violence in Edmonton. Yet, just because someone is dealing with mental health or personal struggles doesn’t mean that they are inherently violent. “I think a lot of it is, there is a difference between correlation and causation,” Romanchuk explains.

On MacEwan University’s campus, mental health issues are seen in many different forms around the downtown area. Over the past three years during the pandemic, the security department at MacEwan has had their own policies put in place to deal with the increase of violence in the community.

Alisha Weber, security services agent at MacEwan, explains how the office of occupational health and safety has specific policies and procedures implemented in line with federal and municipal legislations. “We have to take mental illness into play and the socioeconomic situations for each person,” Weber reveals. “Security really takes into account a person’s situation….We care about the students and the staff, and we also understand the demographic of the downtown population,” she says. “We’re really close to a bunch of shelters and we’re really close to the LRT station.” In early January of this year, there was a fatal shooting not far from MacEwan, outside of Hope

Mission’s homeless shelter. “We understand that a lot of the people who are downtown may suffer from mental illness, they’ve got generational trauma, (and) they’ve got a concoction of things that have gotten them into the situation,” Weber notes.

It’s important to recognize the possibilities of gun violence on a small campus like MacEwan. In late 2022, the MacEwan security team responded to a shooting threat on campus. “We got reports that there was somebody with a gun (on campus)…we called EPS and (they) responded,” Weber says. “In that situation, there was no need to do a lockdown. Everything was under control and EPS showed up. They ended up arresting the (person) and…. it ended up being a fake gun,” she adds. “We take all guns seriously, whether they look real or fake.”

In the event of an active shooting, students would get a text alert, and dispatchers would also sound an audible alarm through the campus’ speakers telling people to shelter in place.

MacEwan being a downtown campus also increases the risk when compared to smaller cities like Leduc. “There’s so many more variables. The good thing would be that, if the majority of the (university) students are from Alberta highschools, they probably would have gone through… various drills and things like that,” Romanchuk says.

Now, in 2023, there’s a discussion of how we can try to stop the increase of violence. Firstly, there will be a debate over a new three-year Edmonton Police Service plan to crack down on gang and gun violence. Staff Sgt. Eric Stewart from the EPS guns and gangs sector has a plan that would involve hiring more officers to monitor the greater-Edmonton area.

In the meantime, to be prepared, we can implement more serious practices into our daily lives.

Be cautious when getting around. For schools, instructors and administrators can continue to implement safety drills into their classrooms. Practicing lockdowns may seem pointless at the moment, but it could be the difference between knowing what to do in the event of a gun violence situation and not.

MacEwan’s security is available on campus 24/7 and offers help to students who may feel uncomfortable or are in a dangerous situation. “We’re always looking and keeping a watchful eye…. if somebody gives us a call, we’re always happy to watch somebody through CCT — our cameras — and just make sure that they get to their vehicles safely.”

MacEwan’s safety app, SAFE@MacEwan, has resources for learning about safety at MacEwan and the option to receive emergency notifications as well. It also offers a list of policies for what to do in the event of a shooting, medical emergency, or suspicious activity. To receive text alerts about emergencies on campus, text MACEWAN to 723389.

SAMU’s Safe Walk is another resource for individuals on campus who want to ensure that they can get to the bus station, LRT station, or their cars safely. To arrange a safewalk buddy on campus, text 587-713-0414.

The Leduc schools, as well as MacEwan University’s counseling services, offer opportunities to talk to professionals about anxiety around violence. Students should not have to be scared at school. Teachers and support staff should not live in fear when going to work. Police officers should not need to remove firearms from violent individuals. Gun violence needs to stop.

Payton Phillips

The Griff

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