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Column

School safety drills and SRT demonstrations

Week 3 of Princeton’s Citizens Police Academy

Princeton K-9 Officer Joel Drozda, who heads up the area's Special Response Team, talks about the uses of a camera robot that comes in handy for the unit during crisis situations.
Princeton K-9 Officer Joel Drozda, who heads up the area's Special Response Team, talks about the uses of a camera robot that comes in handy for the unit during crisis situations.

OK, I’ll be honest. I was late to the third Citizens Police Academy class Wednesday night. But my tardiness was all for good reasons. I had been over at Princeton High School awaiting Coach Kevin Howard’s fate. You can read all about that story in sports today on Page 19. Long story short, the school board’s closed session went longer than I had planned.

When I finally got to class (about an hour late), Princeton Police Officer Rob Jensen was giving a presentation on ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. It’s the new training program now being used in schools (and some businesses) to prepare for active shooter situations. Statistics have shown that this training method is much more effective than the old “turn the lights out and hide under the desk” scenarios.

Jensen said the most important thing taught now is to get kids out of the building and away from the threat. There is no longer the hunkering down in a dark corner in the classroom and waiting for the situation to solve itself. Kids are learning to fight back, especially in situations where there is no way out and the only last resort is to counter the attacker — it’s all about survival mode these days.

Jensen, who works as a school resource officer at Princeton Elementary Schools, says he has kids come up to him all the time and tell him they feel much safer knowing the things he’s teaching them. That thought has got to put parents at ease.

The final part of Wednesday’s class was led by Princeton K-9 Officer Joel Drozda, who heads up the area’s Special Response Team. One of their most recent deployments was to the standoff situation in Princeton that occurred March 15 on First Street. Drozda shared some information about that case and how his team played a role in the incident.

Because the Illinois State Police are more trained and equipped to handle hostile situations such as the Princeton standoff, their officers did a lot of the leg work that day, but we still had local officers out there risking their lives to keep citizens as safe as possible. We’re very fortunate to have Drozda and his team here in our backyard when disaster strikes.

The class got to tour the SRT vehicle, which was once an old ambulance used on an air base. Some might consider it an antique, but Drozda reassured people that it gets the job done. The inside looks like a mini version of a command center and is handy when mobilizing a group of officers to a scene.

We also got a close look at some of the special tactical equipment the unit uses on scene. Have you ever had the chance to feel how heavy their tactical vests are? Wow! You’d be impressed. There’s a reason those officers keep in shape when on the SRT unit.

People seemed really impressed by the unit’s robot camera, which can be used for all kinds of incidents. It really comes in handy when officers need to get a closer view of a hostile situation or during missing persons cases when a large range area needs to be searched.

Next week, the class is going to dive into some dirty work with crime scene investigations. We will be learning about fingerprinting and DNA analysis. In my mind, I envision it being something like from a CSI episode. We will see. Read all about it in next week’s column.

And if you have Twitter, follow me @bcr_grapp. I’m new to Twitter, but I’ll be posting pictures and updates from the class from here on out.

Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is a senior staff writer for the Bureau County Republican. Her email address is grapp@bcrnews.com.

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