Oak Lawn police urge schools to implement safety measures

  • Written by Joe Boyle

art clark photo 5-24

                                                                 Photo by Joe Boyle


Commander Art Clark, coordinator of the Oak Lawn Emergency Management Agency, shows local school administrators and teachers the proper method of applying a tourniquet to a prop during the school safety meeting Tuesday morning at the Oak Lawn Village Hall.



     Oak Lawn Police Chief Randy Palmer said that from what everything he has seen the reports that the shooter accused of killing 10 people at a Texas high school was described as someone who was not viewed as a menace.

     “Our first line of defense is to find out who these kids are before this happens,” Palmer told an audience of mostly local high school, grade school administrators and teachers during a school safety meeting Tuesday morning at the Oak Lawn Village Hall. “In the latest shooting, he was described as a good kid who just decided to shoot the place up. Why do these things happen? I don’t know. Maybe some of them just want to be on TV.”

     Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, is accused of entering through an art classroom door with a shotgun and then starting his shooting spree at the high school in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday. When it was over, 10 people were killed. Eight of the victims were students and the other two were teachers. Pagourtzis was a student at the high school.

     Palmer said that local administrators and teachers have to take seriously any threats and incidents that take place at their schools. While challenging administrators and faculty to be more observant, he also stressed that in Oak Lawn he does see progress.

     “Oak Lawn is the leading agency in the area regarding school safety,” Palmer said. “I’m proud of that. Since the Columbine shootings, we have worked hard to keep schools safe. This is a very hectic situation. Officers also have to look for IEDs and booby traps. It sometimes takes days before anyone can return to the school.”

Palmer said that Oak Lawn works with other local agencies to insure safety and a quick response. The unit works as a team with local municipalities from Chicago Ridge, Hometown, Burbank and Bridgeview.

“We have our people react to situations that occur and you need to sometimes rehearse what you have to do,” Palmer told the administrators and teachers, “This way you react instead of thinking about what you have to do. I want you guys to have that mindset.”

     Palmer added that it is vital for school officials to come up with plans and specific tasks that need to be addressed when dealing with problem students. This could also include loners and students who appear to be withdrawn, Palmer said.

     Commander Art Clark, coordinator for the Oak Lawn Emergency Management Agency, said that a drill will take place on Sept. 23 to instruct not only administrators and teachers on how to react at a mass shooting, but businesses as well.

     “We will have over 147 responders who will be here for the drill,” Clark said. “We are going to be taking 50 ‘casualties’ to Advocate Christ Medical Center on that day and will be including businesses in the drill.”

Palmer said he would like to have these drills take place by October so that these steps will be fresh in the minds of school officials.

     The school safety meeting was planned in part to go over how to respond to the situation that occurred in Parkland, Fla. Palmer said it is important to develop a response due to the latest shootings.

Palmer said that it would be a good idea for teachers, middle school and high school students to create barricades in classrooms to thwart these shooters. By stacking desks up against doors, this can delay the actions of a shooter by several minutes. Palmer said these actions could save countless lives. Often school doors have windows that these offenders can look in. Stacking desks against the door can be a deterrent, Palmer said.

     Palmer and Clark were also joined by officer Joe Schmidt, who works with schools to make them safe, and Dave Wheeler, from the Oak Lawn Fire Department. Along with schools officials, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, Village Clerk Jane Quinlan and Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) were in attendance.

      Palmer emphasized to school officials that he would like to develop an active shooter response, law enforcement drill requirements under the Illinois School Safety Drill Act, lockdown, evacuation and reunification drills, and suggestions for potential training for staff and students. 

      Touring schools to look for potential “blind spots” would be beneficial, Palmer said. Many schools are gong digital and Palmer said this has to be addressed so they can be on the same wavelength with school officials after the slightest sense of danger.

       Clark later provided some lessons on making and applying a tourniquet to a prop at the end of the meeting. Tourniquets could be used to stop bleeding after someone is shot.

“We have worked with nursing staffs at local schools but we are willing to train teachers as well,” Palmer said. “It’s a life skill, a great skill, that can prevent someone from bleeding to death.”

     Palmer said that cameras could be an added asset, although costs would have to be weighed.

The Oak Lawn chief is not comfortable with the idea of having school personnel carrying weapons.

“I’ don’t think I’m comfortable with having teachers with guns in school,” Palmer said. “It takes a lot of training and believe me we don’t want to pull out that gun. That is a last resort. I don’t think we should have our teachers worrying about that. They have enough to do.”

     Bury said the meeting was informative and that everyone needs to work together.

“The first responders do a great job on keeping us safe,” Bury said at the conclusion of the meeting. “What a world we are living in. I think we need to look at doing more about mental health.”

Palmer added that with the series of shootings that have just occurred recently, school safety has to be taken seriously.

     “If we don’t take this seriously, it’s just a matter of when and not if, that this could happen in Oak Lawn,” he said.