This is the second in a four-part series of articles detailing the experiences of Laura Giles and other participants in the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Teachers Academy.
Two skills that may save lives in the event of a school shooter were taught to the participants of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Teachers Academy during the second week — de-escalation and using a firearm safely.
When an active shooter bursts into a classroom, there probably is not time to converse and reason. But, in case there is, and as a means to decrease the likelihood of agitated individuals getting to the point of violence, the participants in the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Teachers Academy learned de-escalation tactics.
Lt. Jeffery Jones, a hostage negotiator with the Sheriff’s Office, led us through different ways of getting a volatile person to listen and reason. This might come in handy in cases of highly upset students, parents or even co-workers. The techniques he taught us could be useful in everyday situations — not just in cases of violence. After all, many students come to school carrying a lot of stress and hardship from their lives with them.
“If you don’t have a gun, you better be really good with your talking. That’s where this would come in,” Jones said.
The first thing to get someone to do is to breathe.
“If I am negotiating with someone, I say, ‘You’re nervous. I’m nervous. Can you take a breath with me?’” Jones said.
“People want to be treated with respect,” Jones said, something that he has learned as a law enforcement officer. “They want to be asked, rather than told. They want to know why. They want to know their options. They want a second chance,” he said.
The goal, according to Jones, is to get the person from resisting to listening. Listening, empathy, asking questions, paraphrasing and summarizing all come into play.
“De-escalation is often before the person goes to get the gun,” Jones said.
Guns in school
“Your concealed firearms permit is not just for you. You can use it to protect others,” said Detective Justin Mortensen to our group. Some brought their own guns to class, some already carry guns at school and some don’t feel comfortable carrying while teaching.
Despite the differences of opinions about carrying guns and varying levels of shooting proficiency, we all took a concealed carry course, taught by Mortensen, as part of the academy. Many completed the necessary steps to gain a concealed carry permit, if they didn’t already have it.
“The primary cause of gun-related accidents is ignorance or carelessness,” Mortensen said. Even if the teachers do not wish to carry guns now, they may wish to do so in the future. This course helped us to learn the laws and regulations regarding carrying a concealed firearm and ways to carry and use safely, including how to load and unload safely, storing guns safely and inspecting ammunition.
Many teachers in the group were interested in carrying firearms while teaching at school. But, they realize the importance of being trained thoroughly. Others are obtaining their concealed carry permits, but are undecided about carrying firearms or are not planning to carry now, but maybe in the future.
There is a lot to think about after this class — whether or not to carry a gun in order to protect our students, learning to use a gun, how to carry it, where and how to store it and developing muscle memory so it can be used in a highly stressful, terrifying situation.