KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Citizen safety is likely the most important thing the Kingsport Police Department (KPD) works toward, but school safety has become top of mind in recent years.
A partnership between the Kingsport City Schools (KCS) system and the KPD has flourished as the term “school shooting” has become far too common.
“We have a great partnership with the school system,” said Tom Patton, KPD Public Information Officer.
Patton said the department has not yet taken steps to adhere to each stipulation of Governor Bill Lee’s new executive order to strengthen school safety; however, the department has taken steps for years.
“We routinely have meetings we discuss safety and security issues with the schools,” Patton said. “We join them whenever there’s talk about changing entry points or security measures, training or anything like that. We are always in the same room together and then have those discussions collectively to make sure the best decisions are made.”
KCS has a similar setup for internal protocols, which KCS Assistant Superintendent Andy True said slightly matched the governor’s order already.
“One of the things that we have worked on really extensively for the last several years is building a coalition of community partners to be able to help us when it comes to our safety efforts,” True said.
True said the system’s “safety task force” meets quarterly and consists of a combination of school administrators, district-level employees like the maintenance director and transportation director, along with community resources like the police department, fire department, emergency response, mental health, etc.
“Bringing that group together, so that as we have situations internally that we want to learn from, analyze ‘how did we do?'” True said. “‘How did we respond whenever we have a safety-related type situation?’ but also help us then to determine what needs to be our plan as it evolves moving forward.”
The school system has had relatively few situations rendering the task force necessary, True explained, but that does not mean those situations do not occur.
“They may not be to the level that you would, unfortunately, have seen in other locations, but when those things do occur, those are the types of things we like to take back to that task force,” True said. “So that we can analyze and stay sharp, knowing that as safe as we plan to be and as we hope to be, there’s always ways that we can improve.”
When mass shootings or especially school shootings occur, these groups as well as KPD reevaluate protocol.
“We certainly don’t want to respond after the fact and try to fix what went wrong,” Patton said. “So we try to learn from any of these instances that happened other places so anytime an incident like [what] happened in Texas happens and we hear about it on the news, we will study that in-house and we will read the after-action reports and we’ll find out what they did right and what they did wrong. And then we’ll try to make changes as needed here locally.”
The point of the analysis, Patton explained, was to learn from the failures and successes of law enforcement on the ground during tragic events that could happen in Kingsport.
“We use other situations that happen other places, not just on school shootings, but anything that happens. We try to learn from others’ experiences so that we can be at the top of our game should that happen here,” Patton said.
Patton said most schools in the district have full-time school resource officers stationed there, with the rest of the schools having a part-time officer in some capacity.
“We’re looking at expanding that program as manpower and budgets allow,” he said.
Budgets are a fine point in Gov. Lee’s order, as law enforcement training is to be reevaluated this summer. The order also could solve a problem many law enforcement agencies face – labor shortages.
The order “calls for new strategies to expand local and state law enforcement agencies by increasing the number of Tennesseans exploring and pursuing careers in law enforcement.”
Another bit of homework over the summer will be a plan to enhance school safety training for those who work in any school setting. These are all items the school system and the police department will first have to receive guidance on before properly implementing any plans to fully comply with the new executive order.