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SD police chiefs advise governor on school safety

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm •  Published: January 16, 2013

Aberdeen Chief Don Lanpher Jr. said entry cards could help, but that securing schools will continue to be a difficult task. "We'd have to build a fort to protect them," he said.

Changes such as strengthening glass in school entryways would make it more difficult for intruders to get into buildings, which would give law officers more time to answer emergency calls and stop someone with a gun, said Brookings Chief Jeff Miller. He said all officers in his department have taken part in emergency response exercises.

"If we're going to have an incident happen, seconds and minutes count," Miller said.

He said some police chiefs might be reluctant to take stands on gun control and a ban on assault rifles because they are hunters and believe in the constitutional right to bear arms.

Allender said police find it difficult to deal with mentally ill people who have guns and are a threat to public safety. Rapid City police are tracking a man who is mentally ill and recently bought an assault-style rifle, but the man can legally have the gun because he's never been adjudicated as mentally ill or convicted of a felony, he said.

Officials could try to get the man committed for mental health treatment, but that's difficult to accomplish, Allender said.

Miller said police in Brookings and other cities have identified people who are threats.

"We know in our communities who these ticking time bombs are. We can't ignore them," Miller said.

Joanna Vitek, police chief in Watertown, said most South Dakota cities are small, which means law officers can help prevent school shootings by forging relationships with students, teachers, parents and others. Those people then will be more willing to call police when they suspect someone is a threat, she said.

"If we see something that looks a little strange, raise the red flag so we can intervene. I think the key here is to do something before it happens," Vitek said.