Recently, in the months of July and August, the Burbank Police Department worked with the Burbank Unified School District (BUSD) and the Burbank Fire Department for active shooter response training that took place at Burroughs High School and McKinley Elementary School while students and staff were not on campus. The training drills covered preparation and response to active shooter situations, tactical deployment and movement, stages of active threats, officer mindset, and how to treat victims medically.
The active training at the schools allowed the department to prepare its personnel for multiple threat risks. Officers were not informed ahead of time, and when they arrived at the training were given the situation and told to move forward on addressing the threat. The drills included role players, SWAT, training equipment, and cooperating with the fire department, in which every sworn officer was involved in the training.
“Nobody hesitated, nobody paused. They stopped the threat and treated the wounded,” said Burbank Police Captain Adam Cornils at the Burbank Unified School Safety Webinar in September. Cornils knows there is never a good outcome from an active shooter situation but knows that our department is ready and will be relentless.
“Our personnel have immediate access and received updated familiarization training with digital site maps of all Burbank Unified School District facilities, keys to these facilities, and tools used to force entry into secured locations,” added Sergeant Brent Fekety, the Burbank Police Department’s Public Information Officer. Through the training and tools that the BPD has and the partnership with BUSD, the department is able to familiarize themselves with all the campuses in the district and provide ongoing preparation. “This training is an invaluable component of the Department’s ongoing preparation to fulfill its public safety mission,” added Fekety.
Topics in the training included preparation and response to active shooter situations, case overviews, tactical deployment and movement, deployment as a solo officer or team, different stages of active threats, and the difference between an active shooter, barricaded suspect, and a hostage situation. The training drills also included officer mindset, situation-driven tactics, how and when to medically treat victims, co-response with the Fire Department and Rescue Task Force teams, and incident commands and communications.
“The Burbank Police Department is an outstanding partner,” said Burbank Superintendent Dr. Matt Hill. “I am very impressed with the level of training that they do each year. We also appreciate the proactive planning that they do with BUSD to keep our schools safe.” Dr. Hill held a safety webinar on September 22nd that gave insight into the behind-the-scenes work the district and department are doing in collaboration to keep Burbank schools safe.
Dr. Hill explained the three-prong approach implemented at the district that includes prevention, proactive planning, and response. Through prevention, the staff is able to get to know students, their history and struggles, and how to support them. Through proactive planning, there are clear protocols in place, training and partnerships with BPD, and consistent reviewing of each school site’s safety plan. Lastly, through response, how will the different departments respond in a situation to be ready for even the worst-case scenarios.
During the webinar, Taylor Foxhall, the Director of Care Centers and High School-Based Counseling at Burbank’s Family Service Agency (FSA), spoke about the services that are provided in our Burbank schools, including all 19 campuses and the Burbank Adult School. The FSA recently implemented a program on the high school campuses and opened a care center that is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 am-4:00 pm. The center has an open-door access to mental health and therapists and sees an average of 100-120 students per day across the two campuses. “Access to resources is important for prevention,” said Foxhall, who is available to students by phone or text any time of day.
Stacy Cashman, BUSD’s Director of Student Services, shared that each site has a safe school plan which is a living document that is always evolving and that outlines emergency preparedness for things like earthquakes, threats, fires, evacuation, and so on. “There is more training and more extensive work than ever before,” said Cashman.
Cyber threats have been an ongoing situation in today’s world, and Burbank has not been immune to the effects of social media. Cashman asks that parents and students don’t repost threats because it puts the community in a panic and makes handling the threat more difficult. “If you see something, report it to the administrators or the district,” she added. Dr. Hill explained the three phases of communication that go out to parents. The first is an investigation when the threat is being assessed, but there is no immediate danger. The second is lockdown, and the third is retrieval of the children by their parents. “We take all threats seriously and work closely with BPD to assess the threat,” added Dr. Hill.
In November of 2021, a threat was made on social media regarding Burbank schools which spread rapidly through the community, students, and parents. The threat turned out to be toward a school in Texas, but students were already alarmed and wanted to leave the high school campuses that morning. Jessica Cribbs is a parent to two students at Burbank High School, and while she quickly realized the threat was not putting her children in danger, staff at the school let them leave the campus without her knowledge, along with a large number of other students. “My kids had been home for two hours when the communication about the threat came from the district,” said Cribbs, who feels that our Burbank Police Department is on top of it and ready to jump but, unfortunately, doesn’t feel that BUSD is quite there.
If a threat is received, it is reported to an onsite threat assessment team which is made up of counselors, SROs, the Burbank Police Mental Health Evaluation Team, and administrators. Information is gathered, the evidence is looked at, and an intervention plan is created. Following the incident, the information is given to an oversight committee monthly that discusses the situation that happened and assesses if the students are getting their needs met. “After each incident or training, we debrief with BPD to review how to do things better. For that incident, some of the improvements identified were communication protocols and student release procedures,” said Hill in regard to the November 2021 cyber threat.
A lot of work is done behind the scenes, and much of it is preventative work through positive behavior intervention and support. Detective Dustin Rodriguez was Burbank’s School Resource Officer (SRO) that was active in the high schools and supports students on the campuses. Rodriguez is a parent and knows the concerns that we all face with our children at school. In 2019 the Threat Assessment Model was implemented and has shown to be a successful program throughout the district. Detective Rodriguez worked to build positive relationships with the students in order to gain trust and be a safe place to address concerns or threats that are made. Rodriguez was recently promoted but is training officer Kyomi Roberts to take his place as Burbank’s SRO.
Martha Walter is the principal at Bret Harte Elementary school and represents the Burbank Unified School District on the Burbank Police Foundation’s board of directors. “I’ve worked at every level of school in the district, elementary through high school, and value tremendously the connection between the district and police department,” said Walter. “The SROs have been wonderful to work with and display calm and professional interest no matter the size of the problem or how many other calls they have pending, which are considerable given the demands on schools and police.”
While it is wonderful that we have a School Resource Officer, the lack of staffing officers at all schools seems to be a frustration for many parents. “As a mother of three girls in the Burbank schools and a working therapist in the community, I understand the importance of our children and teachers feeling safe and supported while at school,” said Burbank parent Jessica Davis. “Correspondingly, I know that the root of these feelings resides in the ability and willingness of our administration and our police force to be present and alert to the needs of the schools. The imperative nature of having solid communication cannot be over-emphasized if we are going to harmonize the efforts of our schools and police. Unfortunately, this requires boots on the ground at the time to communicate with students and staff. And I do understand that this is a formidable challenge when resources are limited,” added Davis.
While there is always room for improvement and growth, the Burbank Unified School District is learning and adapting to be better prepared for real-life situations. Their partnership with the Burbank police department is one of great importance, and the use of schools for active training drills gives their officers the hands-on training to be ready for all risks and threats that may come our way.