There’s no denying that incidents involving schools, guns and tragedy were at the forefront of the news all too often in 2013.
In an effort to curb such violence, school employees in Missouri must now be trained in what to do if and when an armed intruder enters the grounds of their institution.
On a local level, Houston Police Department Sergeant Tim Ceplina is making that training possible through a presentation and training company he recently founded, called Spearpoint LLC, that features a staff including HPD officer Brad Evans and other area officers. Ceplina has been doing similar training sessions since 2006 (including six times at area schools within the past few months), but Spearpoint’s first assignment took place Friday at Plato.
“All this information is pertinent,” Ceplina said. “People don’t realize that school violence specifically is on the rise. Last year was the absolute worse year in history for it, with 23 instances in the U.S. alone. And the problem is growing globally, too.”
Plato Schools Superintendent Ben Yocom said the district has recently taken multiple steps to increase security, including installing numerous security cameras and video identification entrances to five buildings.
“While this topic is extremely unpleasant, it is necessary in this day and age,” Yocom said. “Mr. Ceplina and his crew worked very hard to provide the training in a positive manner. The feedback received from the staff was very complimentary.”
Missouri’s intruder response training requirement for school workers stems from the passing of Senate Bill 75 (signed by Gov. Jay Nixon last July) and its establishment of the Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training for Schools Program (ASIRT), which requires initial training and ongoing follow-up. The bill states that all school personnel must participate, and that instructors must be certified by the Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officers Standards Training Commission.
“That means your bus drivers, your custodians and your kitchen help –– not just teachers and office staff,” Ceplina said. “A lot of schools are ramping up their security, and I commend them for it. But there’s more that needs to be done.”
Ceplina said his goal for Spearpoint was in large part to target small schools with limited budgets.
“One of the reasons why I started this company is for the rural schools to be better able to afford the training,” he said. “There are other companies doing this, but they charge so much money that it puts a real crunch on a budget. I’m doing it for a lot less, and they’re getting the same quality of training.”
Spearpoint’s approach to presentations and training is designed by Ceplina and meets state requirements.
“All my information is current –– it’s not a canned program at all,” he said.
Spearpoint’s program includes several steps in addition to an actual training day, including a security analysis of a school’s entire campus and a resulting list of potential low-cost or no-cost security improvements. A school’s current procedures are also studied, and suggestions are made about what might be missing or unnecessary.
Training sessions include everything from drills depicting intrusions and subsequent reactions and procedures, to one-on-one interaction with teachers and staff regarding what to do in a specific classroom or other space.
“We show them what it will look like,” Ceplina said. “It’s a real eye-opener. But I think after a couple of drills, our time is better spent working room by room and showing people what might happen or what could be done about it in a specific room, so we show them how they might arrange a room for better defense, and many other tricks they can utilize.”
Yocom and Ceplina met a few weeks ago to tour the Plato campus.
“Mr. Ceplina was very helpful in looking at various ways to increase our security without compromising the ‘family’ appeal of our school,” Yocom said. “He will be following up with the staff in the future to see if the training provided is actually being implemented.”
Ceplina said the Plato Schools staff took the training seriously and nobody there was just going through the motions.
“They were really engaged and on it,” he said. “They should be commended for that.”
Another goal Ceplina has for Spearpoint is to work with 50 schools this year. He has several lined up already, including Eminence (Jan. 20) and Couch (Feb. 14).
“There are 150 schools within a three-hour drive from Houston,” Ceplina said. “They all have to have this.”
Ceplina hopes to soon be able to send Evans and some of his other workers out on their own, so to speak.
“The problem we often run into is that schools are all off on the same day,” he said. “If I have four guys who can load up and do it, that’s four schools that can receive the training at once.”
In addition to school employees, local law enforcement officers participate in the training sessions.
“In a lot of cases, that really helps them become more familiar with the school and the teachers, and for the teachers to become more familiar with the officers,” Ceplina said. “You know, our kids go to these schools. Whether we’re in Texas County, Howell County, Reynolds or anywhere else, officers have kids who are students in those schools.
“To me, this is personal to a great extent. I have a 12-year-old in school.”
Last Friday in Plato, 17 members of various law enforcement agencies were on hand for the training, including Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop G, the Texas County Sheriff’s Department and the Laclede County Sheriff’s Department.
“This allowed our staff to put a face with a name and allowed law enforcement officers to familiarize themselves with our campus,” Yocom said. “It was a productive experience for all involved.
“The presentation was professional, relevant and specifically designed for rural schools.”
Ceplina said future plans for Spearpoint include self-defense courses and maybe even firearms training.
“There’s such a need for this right now,” Ceplina said. “To me, it’s horrific that there were 23 incidents last year. We’re trying to do everything else for our kids, why not make their learning environment safe enough that they can learn in it? I’d like to think we’re involved enough in our children’s lives that we would do that.”
Like many state legislators and school district officials, Ceplina believes equipping school employees with the knowhow to protect themselves and their surroundings makes sense, because they’ll only be able to help if they know how.
“We’re going to make schools safer without turning them into a jail or a compound,” Ceplina said. “Our schools have been ‘soft targets’ for too long. With this training, we’re going to start hardening them.
“We might not be able to change people’s behavior, but we can change response and make schools places that aren’t good for bad guys.”
For information about Spearpoint LLC, email Tim Ceplina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Spearpoint can also be found on Facebook.
Our schools have been ‘soft targets’ for too long. With this training, we’re going to start hardening them.”