Former officer says campuses can't stop shooters

When Newport-Mesa school officials reacted to the deadly shooting in a Connecticut elementary school Friday with a message, they reaffirmed their commitment to safety but acknowledged that the district has no real response for a tragedy on the scale of the 26 victims at Sandy Hook.

"While no level of planning can truly prepare us for this kind of an incident, know that we are forever dedicated towards the safety of our children and staff," Supt. Fred Navarro told parents.

A former police officer who patrolled the halls of Newport-Mesa schools for 17 years echoed that message of unpreparedness this week.

Jess Gilman was one of Costa Mesa's school resource officers and was based out of Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools.

He retired from the Costa Mesa Police Department in October after 27 years of service. The school year he retired was the last that Costa Mesa schools had SRO officers, although officials want to restart the program this spring.

Wednesday Gilman said the Newport-Mesa Unified School District should consider some hard options for the contingency of a gunman storming onto campus.

"It's nearly impossible with the infrastructure we currently have to keep the bad guys out," he said.

He advocated throughout his career for better lockdown ability he said. At an emergency school board meeting Tuesday, fencing, the difficulty of securing each campus and the fact that not all classroom doors lock was brought up repeatedly.

Gilman said if schools aren't secure, there are few options once a gunman is inside.

"If we can't keep the bad guys out, we have to have a system in place that can engage them as soon as possible to stop the threat," he said.

Gilman, who describes himself as neither pro- or anti-gun, said he would like to see a frank discussion about an immediate response to armed intruders, whether it includes more officers or specific teachers being trained as part of a comprehensive safety plan.

School board Vice President Karen Yelsey floated the idea of arming school staff Tuesday, but law enforcement officials mostly sidestepped the idea, saying the board could discuss it.

Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers President Kimberly Claytor was more direct, telling trustees it was a bad idea. She recommended they instead advocate for more gun control.

District staff is studying recommendations for tightening school security, but some trustees have already expressed distaste for plans that restrict all access to schools or resemble prisons.

School board Clerk Judy Franco said having to buzz in at the front door — a system reportedly used at Sandy Hook Elementary that failed to stop shooter Adam Lanza — is too much.

"When you have somebody who they're really there to just create havoc and are probably ready to die themselves, you're probably not going to stop that," Navarro said Thursday.

He said the district is considering measures that are both deterrents — hoping any motivated shooter will move on to an easier target — and after-the-fact responses.

"You try to prevent everything, but you also have to react to the unthinkable," he said.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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