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MCPD chief: La Porte County doing things right

July 30, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – After attending a conference on school shooting preparedness, Michigan City Police Chief Mark Swistek said it’s “reassuring to us that a lot of the things that were mentioned as issues we are already doing.”

Swistek was among the law enforcement officials, educators, medical professionals, parents and students who attended the “Community Preparedness in an Era of School Shootings Lesson Learned” conference at Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa on Thursday.

He said La Porte County is leading the way as far as safety planning, including reunification points at each school, and a thorough knowledge of the blueprints of school buildings.

But he also believes there are “a few things that we could improve on.”

Those especially include the delicate task of how to inform victims’ families and communicate with those involved. He said it was upsetting to hear how officials in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting told Alissa Parker her first-grade daughter, Emilie, had “expired.”

That’s why it’s important, he said, for law enforcement to work closely with professionals who can tell them the best possible ways to handle such situations.

Swistek said the Michigan City Police Department debriefs every school shooting situation across the nation through news coverage, including videos.

“We read and research because there’s things we learn from them,” he said.

The part of the conference that had the greatest impact on Swistek was a panel discussion with twins Harris and Mandi Jaffe, survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida; and area high schools students and graduates.

“I was very impressed with how they handled themselves on stage and very impressed with the interaction between the kids,” Swistek said.

He mentioned Harris Jaffe explaining how students in the classroom where he was hiding were reluctant to open the door when police arrived, fearful it was another shooter impersonating an officer.

“We know these types of thoughts go through their minds, but it was enlightening to hear it firsthand,” Swistek said.

Those involved in previous tragedies spoke on how smoothly drills had gone, “yet in a true critical incidence, it is total chaos. We can plan plan plan, but it’s totally chaotic,” Swistek said. “We have to make split-second decisions because things are fluid and there are a lot of moving parts.”

He noted that “not everyone follows instructions to a T, but it’s been proven that if you drill it into them and train them, that a large percentage will do it.”

Michigan City Area Schools has a great school safety commission in addition to a county-wide commission, he said.

For example, everyone in the Michigan City Area Schools goes through active school shooting training. This includes not only teachers and staff, but also bus drivers and substitute teachers.

Swistek also mentioned that “social media is an outlet for those young people (involved in school shootings).” He stressed that anyone that sees something on social media or in other places “that is concerning or may lead to violence has to report it to law enforcement immediately.”

He explained that the Red Flag law allows law enforcement, through probable cause, to seize weapons from someone who may be a danger to himself or others.

“This has been used several times in the past year (locally) and is very beneficial to have as far as law enforcement,” he said.

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