By Corinne Murdock |
The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) approved an increase in school safety staff a week before experiencing an active shooter threat last Tuesday.
TUSD Governing Board member Sadie Shaw pointed to that threat as justification for supporting the increase, which some community members opposed. TUSD will hire five more school safety supervisors, two dispatchers, and one field lieutenant, adding to the 34 existing school safety department members. Only board members Leila Counts and Ravi Shah opposed the increase.
The TUSD community and South Tucson Police Department (STPD) presented different accounts of last Tuesday’s threat, the nature of the 911 calls, and the department’s response times.
In their version of the events to KGUN 9, STPD claimed that they received one call about the potential gunman at 7:05 am last Tuesday. They said that several men were reportedly arguing over a possible stolen car across from Mission View Elementary School, part of TUSD. Half an hour later, STPD claimed that a school monitor reported in a second call that one of the men may have been armed.
STPD didn’t respond until 9:05 am, a response time of about two hours in a city of just over one square mile. STPD reported that they didn’t find a gun.
However, Shaw and others offered a different account of events last Wednesday. Shaw stated that STPD didn’t respond for over three hours, that the alleged gunman was directly threatening the school, and that the school principal placed the calls to police. The board member thanked the TUSD safety team for protecting the students when police failed to arrive.
Shaw said that the experience was significant enough for her to vote to hire more school safety officers.
“I wasn’t on the governing board when they voted to arm school safety but in general I support this decision because these employees are sometimes tasked to respond to dangerous situations that happen at any TUSD site — 24/7,” wrote Shaw. “[Y]ou know what? I have a child that goes to school in this district and so do many of you. I don’t think we can afford to make idealistic decisions that ignore reality. This is America.”
In a subsequent petition to end school gun violence, which Shaw shared, the group “Protect Our South Tucson School” claimed that STPD didn’t respond for three and a half hours, and that the two calls were about, first, a “gun yielding [sic] angry gunman” standing outside the school and, second, an electronic threat sent to the school. Additionally, the group echoed Shaw’s claim that the second call came from the elementary school principal — not a school resource officer.
The entirety of the group’s account of event is reproduced below:
On Tuesday, June 21st at 7:15 am, 15 minutes before a summer school day started a gun yielding angry gunman stood outside of Mission View Elementary in South Tucson, a one square mile enclave of the much larger city of Tucson.
About an hour after the first call to 911 the school received a threat electronically.
The principal called 911 and pleaded again for law enforcement officers to come to protect the school while students participated in their summer school classes. Nobody showed up. Instead, the school district’s school safety team showed up in a heroic fashion and was able to secure the school.
It wasn’t until 3 and a half hours after the incident did South Tucson Police showed [sic] up to the mass shooting threat.
Every day in the United States a mass shooting occurs, just a few weeks ago in Uvalde Texas, a mass shooter ended the lives of many children and teachers. The lack of urgency in South Tucson PD’s response is unacceptable. We understand that South Tucson PD is understaffed, but when it comes to the potential threat of a mass shooting occurring it should be their number one priority. In the one square mile city, families and schools can only receive services first from South Tucson police. Tucson Police Department should be responding jointly to potential threats of gun violence to our schools regardless if the threat is in South Tucson.
We are calling on South Tucson, Tucson Unified School District and the City of Tucson to address this issue immediately and develop policies that improve lines of communication, and improve collaboration when it comes to protecting our students from gun violence.
AZ Free News reached out to STPD just before noon on Tuesday. We were referred to STPD Chief Danny Denogean; he didn’t respond by press time.
STPD admitted that their response time was too slow, which they asserted was around two hours. Denogean apologized on Monday in a statement to KGUN 9.
“We own this. We should have had a better response to that call. There’s no debating that. We needed to get there quicker.”
The neighboring Tucson Police Department (TPD) has also had slower response times, due to staffing shortages. Assistant Chief Kevin Hall told KOLD in January that the issue has been plaguing them for about two years. Chief Chris Magnus reported that their fastest response time for foremost emergencies averages 4 minutes and 47 seconds, whereas lowest-level calls average about one hour and 37 minutes.