UPDATE: HPISD sent a letter in response to this post, and because it's too long to publish in our comments, we've added to the end.
I have a column coming out in next week's paper about the bomb and gun threats at Highland Park High School. It was inspired by (ripped off from) a story in The Huffington Post last week by Park Cities freelance writer Pamela Kripke, who is also the mother of a HPHS student.
It's a pretty amazing piece, which I can say with some confidence now having followed behind her and found all of her reporting solid. She says that University Park Police Chief Gary Adams told her the only way he could guarantee the safety of students at the high school would be with the installation of metal detectors.
She says Adams also told her that he had proposed metal detectors to the school district, even offering to find some loaners for them until they could buy their own, but that the school had turned down the idea.
You know why. Too ghetto.
Well, they say metal detectors are too "urban." A school district spokesperson told me requiring park cities students to go through metal detectors had a "cultural element" and a "psychological part" that they couldn't allow.
They've had seven explicit written bomb threats since January by my count, two incidents of live ammo found in the school or on the person of a student, more text message threats than they can count, and the FBI has been unable so far to link any of it to anybody.
After Crime Stoppers offered a reward, the organization received a note in the mail warning them that the threats are "not a hoax" and that the danger is "building."
But they don't need metal detectors. Helen Williams, director of communications for the district, told me, "When you've got a situation in an urban district where you're dealing with gangs and things that come with that, it probably is a more major consideration."
But not in the Park Cities. Williams told me Kripke had been what she called "quite verbal" and that the metal detectors were "kind of her one-woman crusade to tell you the truth."
Since Kripke's Huff Post piece came out, Chief Adams has been smartly boxed about the ears, I'm sure. Williams told me Adams had not said what Kripke quoted him saying, which would make Kripke a liar and a fabricator of fact. When I spoke with Adams, he did his yeoman best to play down any conflict with the school district, insisting he had not issued any edicts and that the district had not defied any warnings from him.
But Adams is obviously a deep-down honest guy (whom I am probably getting fired), and in response to my questions he confirmed the gist of what Kripke had reported: "She asked me about metal detectors and if I thought they needed them. I said at this point in time after we found .22 bullets, I thought we did."
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Her piece is a compelling combination of solid reporting and the cry of a mother's terrified heart. Here's an excerpt:
I call the Chief of Police. He assures me that within two days, metal detectors would be installed on campus. He sounds relieved. Without them, he says he can't know if a weapon is in the school. He "cannot guarantee the safety of anyone in the building."
Two days later, when detectors are not installed, I call him to find out where they are. He tells me that he provided school administrators with detailed information about how to purchase them. "I even tried to borrow them, meantime, from other districts, the airport," says Chief Gary Adams ...
"We should have them. If it's going overboard, we should go overboard." Chief Adams has worked as a police officer for more than 35 years, and as Chief, here and elsewhere, for 20.
UPDATE:This letter, sent by email last Thursday from the Highland Park Independent School District, reflects the HPISD position:
I thought I'd send you some additional information for your story. Here is the link to the Crime Stoppers announcement, which also includes some safety updates from Chief Adams and Dr. Orr: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs142/1102070697430/archive/1112880814723.html
I also am including some information from another recent message that discusses the debate over permanently installing walk-through metal detectors on campus(es), along with other related topics. Just to clarify, we are looking at all our options and have not ruled out walk-through metal detectors. As we discussed on the phone, it would be a major change and expense for the district, and we would need to look at how many metal detectors would be needed, whether they should be installed on all campuses, and how to manage the logistics of screening the thousands of students, staff members and community members who are on our campuses every day. Walk-through metal detectors also require trained staff to monitor all those who would pass through them and to search people and bags as needed. There are some parents who are in favor of making the change and others who oppose it. As I mentioned, we are consulting with safety experts, and at the recommendation of safety experts (UP Police and FBI officials), we have purchased handheld metal detectors, which will permanently remain on campus.
Also, we have hired a safety firm (Defenbaugh & Associates, headed by retired FBI agent Danny Defenbaugh) to conduct thorough safety audits on all our campuses and to make recommendations regarding facility enhancements and staff training.
Here are some excerpts from the recent message from Dr. Orr and Chief Adams:
What daily safety measures are being taken on campus?
· We are checking student and faculty IDs, both at entrances and with random checks throughout the school day. We appreciate our students' cooperation, as this has been an adjustment for them. We appreciate our volunteers and visitors also wearing their badges while on campus.
· The University Park Police Department and Town of Highland Park are continuing to provide armed officers on campus.
· We have limited the student entrances to the two main entrances, and two other entrances on Douglas Avenue. All entry points are staffed by personnel. We have expanded the hours for security at these points, and custodians will not be opening the entrances until a staff member is present.
· The building has been searched by officers, dogs and bomb squads as needed.
· We have provided additional staff and have instructed supervising administrators, security guards and custodians with specific guidelines to prevent unnecessary access to areas of the building outside of school hours.
· Surveillance video cameras record 24/7, and we are working with UPPD and the FBI to review all relevant video footage, along with the review of forensic evidence. There are video cameras posted outside bathroom entrances.
Have you considered using metal detectors?
· We have carefully considered the use of metal detectors, which range from handheld detectors to walk-through machines.
· At this point, we have chosen to use handheld metal detectors as needed. The district has purchased handheld metal detectors, which will remain on campus permanently. In addition, UP police officers have their own handheld metal detectors.
· Members of the public have voiced strong opinions on this issue. While some suggest that we should install permanent airport-level security, others suggest that the installation of walk-through machines sends the wrong message to students.
What is the status of the investigation?
· In the interest of the integrity of the investigation and in the interest of student safety, we cannot share specific facts about what information has been obtained during questioning.
· Many people have been interviewed, and investigators have followed through on all leads.
· We will continue to keep you updated, and if an arrest is made, we will make a timely announcement.
· The FBI is continuing to partner with UP police on the investigation.
Have you searched students? What are the legal guidelines?
· Officials have conducted searches of backpacks, lockers, cars, cell phones, clothing and bodily searches when there is reasonable suspicion of prohibited conduct.
· Please note that HPISD must conduct its investigations within the boundaries of what is permissible under state and federal law. These laws include the Fourth Amendment's right against unreasonable searches by the government.
· Under the law, the district may only conduct a search when it has reasonable suspicion of prohibited conduct. Reasonable suspicion means specific and describable conduct exists that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a particular student has engaged in prohibited conduct. The requisite reasonable suspicion must be present from the outset of the search. Reasonable suspicion must be more than a hunch or supposition. For example, it would be illegal for the district to seize every student's cell phone and review it for clues. It would also be illegal for the district to fingerprint all students.
· Privacy expectations can be minimized by telling students beforehand that certain locations, such as lockers or vehicles parked on school grounds, are subject to random search, which is something the district does on a regular basis.
How are parents and students being notified about threats?
· HPISD is communicating all emergencies through its text-messaging system, email and postings on the district website.
· Text messages allow the district to push instant notifications to users' cell phones. The software allows for a limited number of characters to be sent, so the texts will usually be brief and to the point. For more information, please check your email and the website.
· To sign up a parent or student for the text alerts, please refer to this FAQ. Faculty and staff can refer to this FAQ to sign up for text alerts.
How can parents help?
· We encourage our parents to talk to their children about the seriousness of the situation we are facing. In this case, a terroristic threat can result in felony charges and imprisonment. A parent's wisdom, understanding and guidance goes a long way toward helping a child understand the harmful effects that threats such as those made against our campus can have.
· Parents can also help by reporting any information and leads to the University Park Police Department at 214-987-5354, members of the HPHS Administration at 214-780-3700 and Crime Stoppers at 1-877-373-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be submitted on the web 24 hours a day.
· Anyone interested in contributing to the Crime Stoppers fund may do so by emailing HPISD's Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Tim Turner at email@example.com.
· In an earlier update, we included a list of tips for helping keep our campuses safe.
We know that this has been a stressful time for our students, families, staff and community members. If your child has concerns, please encourage him or her to talk to a school counselor or a trusted teacher or other adult on campus. We appreciate your partnership, and we will continue to keep you informed.
Sincerely, HPISD Superintendent Dr. Dawson Orr UP Police Chief Gary Adams
Let me know if you need any additional information.
Helen Williams Director of Communications Highland Park ISD