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Schools, police prepare for worst
1989 Stockton school shooting helped drive preparations
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Jason Messer started his public education career well aware that being a teacher could one day mean having to protect students from gunmen.

The Manteca Unified School superintendent was a student at the University of Pacific when Patrick Purdy killed five children and wounded 29 others at Cleveland School in Stockton on Jan. 17, 1989. Then, later as dean at Lincoln High in North Stockton, a number of his freshmen and sophomores were students who had transferred to that school district after surviving the Cleveland School massacre.

Friday’s massacre of 26 at a Connecticut elementary school prompted Manteca Unified to re-inform parents that there are contingency plans in place if the unthinkable happened here.

Messer stressed that student safety is paramount. Teachers are regularly reminded of procedures plus pertinent information is posted in all classrooms. Emergency procedures have been used at least three times in recent years when gunmen were being chased by police near Manteca campuses. Included were lockdowns at Manteca High with a shooter nearby as well as another time when armed criminals fled toward the campus after robbing the Bank of America branch. The other incident involved a search for a gunman in the neighborhoods near Stella Brockman School.

South County school districts, police plan for worst case scenarios

Definitive protective plans are in place with South County law enforcement and school districts should an active shooter set his sights on an elementary or high school in the area such as was the case in Newtown, Conn.

 Authorities for Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop Police departments as well as the Manteca Unified School District and the Ripon Unified School District all have protocols in place should such an attack happen.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Les Garcia explained that the patrol staff is constantly training on meeting the threat of any future active shooters both in the City of Lathrop and throughout the county.  He said it is important for the deputies who are the first responders to take an active position against the shooter.

Deputies have learned to locate the shooter, isolate him and evacuate the buildings with time being of the essence.  Garcia said the SWAT team is usually secondary to the patrol units that arrive on the scene within minutes of receiving the call for help from a school.

Administrative Sergeant Jodie Estarziau of the Manteca Police Department noted that her agency has an active shooter plan.  Much like the Sheriff’s Department the first officers to arrive on the scene are expected to enter the building and locate the shooter and attempt to eliminate the threat as quickly and as safely as possible. 

“It would be nice to always have a backup officer,” she said, but that might not be possible at the time when children are under assault.  “Some of the officers carry a rifle in their vehicles and all have a shotgun if they need it.”

“Most of the time with an active shooter,  it’s all over before a SWAT team can be called out.  SWAT is more often used when someone has barricaded themselves,” Estarziau added.  “We would call for mutual-aid response from other agencies and all off-duty officers.”

Ripon Police have assault vehicle

Ripon Police Department has two of its officers imbedded with the Manteca Police SWAT team who would serve as a scouts and pathfinders for the full responding SWAT team from Manteca.  Ripon has the luxury of having a large assault vehicle used by both Ripon and Manteca in hostage situations. It is an armored truck they bought from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for $1 as obsolete equipment from that larger department in Southern California.

First Sergeant Steve Merchant said another positive for his department is its average reaction time of 90 seconds to reach an emergency call anywhere within the city of 16,000 residents.  The take-home program where officers are issued their own patrol units that they park in front of their residences is another plus for the community, Merchant said.

In one situation in the past few years when a man with a shotgun fled from a domestic violence situation in the early morning hours and crashed into a roundabout just north of the police department, off-duty officers were called out to the traumatic scene.

The sergeant said that within a matter of minutes there were a dozen police cars at the scene as the man had run down Wilma Avenue and was assaulting the front doors of the police department with his shotgun.  Dispatchers fled to the rear of the building for their safety with only hand-held radios they used to continue dispatching.

Shortly after the man blasted out the glass doors of the building he was arrested without anyone being injured by his actions.  The glass doors and windows have been replaced with bullet proof glass.

“We are initiating a program where officers are going to be on all the school campuses before school, during school and after school,” he said of the increased effort to be there for the children.  It is a new program that had been planned prior to Friday’s assault on the East Coast classrooms.

“Every police vehicle has an assault weapon (in addition to a shotgun) and our officers have all received advance training in using them,” he said, “and we have an agreement with the Manteca SWAT team for mutual-aid response.”

Merchant explained that the first Ripon officer to arrive at a school under threat by an active shooter would go into the school buildings and attempt to eliminate  the threat.  SWAT comes in later when there is a developing hostage situation or when building searches are required, he added.

“Because we already work so closely with the school district we continue to work on the small problems through counseling to stop a problem before it escalates into something that gets out of control,” he said.  “And, we are always concerned with anyone entering or leaving any of the campuses.”

Ripon can have dozen of officers on scene in minutes

Merchant said that a serious call for help on any campus will bring the two to three officers on the street immediately to the scene.  They will be followed by the administrative staff and detectives and officers called from home in their own police take-home units.

“We can have 10 to a dozen officers at the scene within minutes,” he stressed.  “We work closely with the fire department and they are a great added resource of us with their life-saving skills that could help in any situation.”

Merchant lauded the Ripon citizenry, saying they are very good about calling the department when they see anything suspicious.

Ripon Unified School District Superintendent Louise Johnson said she has been impressed with the past performance of the Ripon Police.

“They have really proven themselves in past situations.  We will take our direction from law enforcement, because they are well trained,” she said. “They have always delivered for us when we had a problem.”

The superintendent recalled a situation near Colony Oak Elementary School in the last year and a half when a shooter was seen in a field near the school.  Ripon officers responded quickly, setting up a perimeter around the school as it was locked down – diffusing the situation with no one being injured.

“We’ve also experienced lock downs at Ripon High School and Ripon Elementary School when downtown banks were robbed,” she added.  There were two robberies at Bank of Stockton and one at the Bank of the West.