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Fargo police make it clear they would go in after active shooter

Sergeant makes presentation on various situations to police advisory and oversight board

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Board chairman Joanna Johnson, left, and vice chairman Lucrachia King, second from right, are pictured with Scott Paul and Sgt. Cristie Jacobsen during the April inaugural meeting of the Police Advisory and Oversight Board in the Fargo City Commission Chambers.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Fargo police made it clear to its citizen advisory and oversight board on Thursday, June 9, that if there was an active shooter in a school they "would go in."

Sgt. Tom Shaw, who trains officers in such situations, said the officers would move in "immediately."

Amid controversy in the south Texas school shooting where the police response time is in question, Shaw was asked by board member David Hogenson when the Fargo police would go in and when they would wait.

Shaw didn't hesitate and said if there is belief the shooter is "engaging civilians, there's no waiting."

"We will go in there immediately regardless of how many people we have there at the time," Shaw said.

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In an interview after the meeting, Police Chief David Zibolski reiterated that policy and said his officers would go in "as quickly as we can."

When asked who would be in charge of making the decision, he said it would be the incident commander at the scene.

Shaw, who also trains officers in hostage and bomb threat incidents, said the first step by going in would be to "neutralize the situation."

Next, he said, would be to help any victims.

The police, he said, train with the Fargo Fire Department for that situation to get the victims medical attention and out of the scene to the waiting ambulances as soon as possible.

If the shooter was barricaded by himself or herself, Shaw said they may wait to confront the shooter in that situation.

As for hostage situations, Shaw told the board that there is a difference between an active shooter and a hostage event.

In the hostage situation, the hostage taker is usually "making a demand for something," he said, and the police would enter into the negotiation stage.

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"In a vast majority of those situations, the negotiations are successful and the hostages are released," Shaw said.

If there was the belief that the hostage taker might be ready to kill victims, he said police would move in immediately.

As for bomb threats, Shaw said there hasn't been a valid threat in his 17 years with the department.

Police do take them seriously, though, and perhaps clear people out of a bigger area than they need to do. A police dog is used to investigate any suspicious package they may find.

Also at the meeting, Sgt. Cristie Jacobsen explained the role of the seven school resource officers in the seven middle schools or high schools in the city and answered questions about how they may respond in various situations.

She emphasized that the officers work on trust-building and relationships with students.

"Our officers aren't door guards at any of our schools, that's for sure," Jacobsen said. "We have offices. We are walking around. We are relationship-building. We are in the classrooms a lot. We monitor lunch periods," she said.

"When you walk into the school, the first person you see isn't the face of the officer," she said.

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Their team's relationship with the school administrators and district office is "phenomenal," she said. They often talk about situations and ways they can help each other.

"Our goal is to have a safe learning environment" not just physically, she said, but also emotionally and to deal with any mental health issues that arise.

Jacobsen said the officers are trained in the national triad methods where the basic duties are being the school law enforcement officer, but also an educator on law-related topics and an informal counselor and mentor to students.

When asked by the board how many actual criminal events school resource officers may encounter in a year, she said it would be in the single digits.

"It's very, very infrequently," she said.

In those cases, the student is then referred to juvenile court and turned over to their parents.

"We know kids make mistakes, but we don't want it to hold them back," she said about efforts to work with those facing struggles.

When board member Scott Paul asked about the use of force policy for the schools, Jacobsen said they don't touch "school handbook issues." But any illegal acts are dealt with by the officers.

Board Chairman Joanna Johnson asked if one officer in each of the schools with perhaps 800 to 1,400 students was enough, Jacobsen said they use a "team approach" and many others on her community engagement team are cross-trained.

She said patrol officers stop in at the schools, too, and can be backup if any problems occur.

Board member Tonya Greywind asked if there were surveys or other measures with input from students about whether they feel safe.

Jacobsen said some schools do surveys, and school resource officers also work closely with the schools to make sure the schools are happy with the officers.

Board member and teacher Todd Spellerberg said he's been at his school for 17 years and he doesn't know of any bad officers.

He wondered if there could be more funding for some summer programs the police try to put together to help struggling students

Some of those are swimming lessons for New American students, outdoors programs, and lessons in boxing and self-defense.

Jacobsen said the participation numbers vary, but they depend on donations, student interest and the time officers may be able to offer.

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