Local law enforcement officials say that while they train and plan for situations like last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, there’s no way to be fully prepared to prevent such a criminal act.

Twenty kindergarten age children and six teachers were killed by a 20-year-old gunman who broke into the school Friday morning and went on a shooting rampage before killing himself.

“Planning is great, but whenever something like this happens you can’t plan enough,” Sheriff Gary Toelke said.

“Obviously as horrific as this was, there is nothing anyone can do to actually prepare for how you would handle this emotionally,” Washington Police Chief Ken Hahn said. “But we definitely would respond swiftly, make entry as soon as the first officers arrive and attempt to neutralize the threat.”

Toelke said it’s not uncommon for law enforcement to come in contact with or get information about people who have made veiled threats, but find it legally difficult to follow up on them.

He said law enforcement officers deal with violent youths and adults who show the potential to commit similar crimes.

“Carrying out the crime is rare, but there have been those who made plans and have had the potential,” Toelke said. “When we in law enforcement try to deal with these situations, we often cannot follow through and are stopped in our tracks by various legal restrictions.”

Ongoing Training

The sheriff said his department has conducted training in local schools and worked with school administrators on addressing potential situations.

Later this month, deputies and Union police will participate in a training exercise at East Central College, he noted.

Capt. Steve Elliott has been a certified instructor in “active shooter” training since the Columbine school massacre in 1999. Most officers, in both the sheriff’s department and municipal police forces in the area, are certified in the training, he said.

Elliott said he has modified the training so it’s better suited to Franklin County.

“We’ve been ahead of the curve for some time,” he said.  

While it’s vital, the “active shooter” training it’s “just a part of addressing the problem,” Toelke remarked.

“Our society is headed in the wrong direction. It took a long time to get here and it will take a long time to fix it, if we are willing to make the sacrifices to fix it,” Toelke said.

Hahn said that he plans to meet this week with school administrators in Washington to brush up on plans and “evaluate where we stand on school security.”

Hahn said his school resource officers also have received training in handling incidents like the one at Newtown, Conn.

“The school district is very proactive with this as well, but in light of this it is time to meet again to go over everything,” Hahn told The Missourian.

Both Hahn and Toelke said a big part of the problem is cuts in funding for mental health facilities and treatment.

“That (funding) needs to be restored,” Hahn stated.