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RISD training focuses on school safety, security

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On Sept. 5, LJ Harrell visited the Roswell Daily Record to share information on a new federal program for student safety. Harrell is the safe school liaison for the Roswell Independent School District and a former law enforcement trainer. (Alison Penn Photo)

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LJ Harrell, safe school liaison for the Roswell Independent School District (RISD), recently discussed with the Roswell Daily Record how he trains teachers to keep students safe in life-threatening situations.

As part of his daily duties, Harrell said he oversees school security from “active shooters to irate parents to violent teens” throughout the schools. He said the program extends to “crisis prevention” training for teachers and administrators, along with proactively dealing with bullying.

Harrell said he is about to launch an anonymous hotline to report bullying and potential threats, and also plans to offer classes for students and parents to help them deal with bullying.

Harrell is from Roswell and graduated in 1990 from Roswell High School. After this, he graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales with a biology degree and went into law enforcement. He worked for New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for five years and then worked at the Roswell Police Department (RPD) for 15 years — with the last five years as the dedicated training coordinator. He is married and has two college-aged children.

Jennifer Cole, RISD director of federal programs, said the safe school liaison is a new position in the RISD federal programs department, provided through a Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant last spring. Cole said Harrell has a partnership with local law enforcement to assist in training and to conduct threat assessments.

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Harrell said Campus Security Magazine asked parents what their biggest concerns were at the beginning of the school year. The top two concerns from the poll were active shooters and bullying.

“You should never fear to let your kid go to school or anything like that,” Harrell said. “One of the first things I teach is Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. For a kid to learn, they have to have their basic needs met — food, water, all that — but that safety and security is huge. The kids just have a really hard time learning if they don’t feel secure — or if their parents don’t feel secure.”

At the beginning of the school year, Harrell offered active shooter training for administrators to prepare them for the upcoming school year. Now that the administrators have been prepared, Harrell is in the process of training all of the teachers at all of the local schools. Cole said Harrell worked with the federal programs staff to compile 900 classroom safety kits for teachers to distribute at each training.

“It’s a new concept,” Harrell said about school security. “A lot of people don’t like to talk about the security things, but it has just gotten to that day and age where it’s important.”

Harrell’s initial courses are a three-hour class for administrators and a one-and-a-half hour class for teachers. He said he teaches ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) a nationally know active shooter training to prepare schools for a violent shooter on campus.

He said understands it is a lot ask for already busy teachers, but he believes in their capabilities. He said he aims to create a solid foundation for them to build on for future tactics to help in potential crises. Harrell said teachers are apprehensive at first, but seem to accept the training as it progresses.

In the past, Harrell said teachers were only equipped with the lockdown strategy safety precaution and school security is now moving to an option-based plan. Prior to this year, he said the sheriff would oversee the training of the county schools and the RPD would monitor the schools within city limits. He said one of the most positive effects of his training and his position is that it allows school safety to be cohesive in both the city and county.

Harrell said he teaches basic, applicable concepts of law enforcement training to provide an avenue for teachers to make informed decisions in dangerous situations. He also teaches them what happens physiologically to their bodies in life or death situations, and they can how to overcome that to remain calm to keep students calm. He said he teaches them how to distract an armed gunman, break windows if needed for an evacuation, and some basic medical skills if they can’t evacuate the school.

Harrell said information is vital to make decisions in such situations and his training includes how teachers alert a whole school of when and where a shooting is happening. He said one of the first things he does is dispel the myth that everyone will know this information just by hearing gunshots.

He said he fires ‘simunitions,’ non-lethal training ammunition used in police training, to allow teachers to hear a decibel similar to a pistol cartridge. During the simulated gunfire, he said it can cause teachers and principals from Berrendo Middle School to relive the 2014 shooting all over again.

Not only does he do preventative training, Harrell also has an opportunity to work with schools like BMS with “a lot of baggage” to help the school staff fully function again. He said it is good for teachers to process this in a training setting and not in an actual situation.

Harrell said there have been several “somewhat severe” incidents at the beginning of the year. When an incident occurs, Harrell said the school resource officers and the security guards will communicate with him and he will come to the school. He said after the incident is settled, he oversees the recovery process, where he and those involved will talk about it, watch the security footage, and assess what can be done better for the next event.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.