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‘You Don’t Have To Be A Victim’: Utah County Sheriff Prepares Educators For Active Shooter Situations

A man stands in front of a room full of people sitting at tables. A screen on the wall has a slide titled "Stress Inoculation."
Ivana Martinez
Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith holds Teacher Academy for the third time since 2019. The 20-hour course is aimed at preparing educators for active shooter situations.

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith walks around the classroom weaving through aisles until he’s at the front of the room. The projector that had been playing a 60 minute documentary of the Columbine High School massacre has ended. No one speaks as he turns to face the audience.

“You don’t have to be a victim,” Smith said to the room full of teachers. “And that’s why we do this thing. You think to yourself: what are my capabilities? What can I do if I'm not capable? How can I become capable [of defending myself]?”

Around 30 educators gathered at the Utah County Sheriff's Office Tuesday night to attend the Teachers Academy. It’s a course meant to prepare school staff for active shooter situations.

It teaches them skills like de-escalation tactics, emergency medical techniques and how to shoot a gun.

Smith previously worked in SWAT and has been in law enforcement for 27 years in Utah. He became interested in the idea of collaborating with educators years ago, when he’d been called into a high school to respond to an active shooter.

A man stands in a carpeted hallway with a weapon.
Ivana Martinez
Utah County Under Sheriff Shaun Bufton demonstrates to teachers what a gun shot would sound like inside a building.

“When we were clearing that school, the officers came across multiple teachers that had firearms,” Smith said.

Utah is one of six states as of January 2020 that allows teachers with concealed carry permits to have guns at school. Smith said what troubled him was that few of the teachers had the knowledge or proper training to use their weapons. He said if they’re bringing the guns in, it’s better to teach them how to do so safely.

Smith said the 20-hour course isn’t meant to turn teachers into police officers but rather give them the tools to prepare for these types of situations.

“We don't want them to do our job,” he said. “What we're asking them to do is to follow the school's lockdown policies. To lock down and then to have a plan in place if a suspect gets to them. If [they] get to their room before the police, [they] don't have to be a victim.

It was mostly educators from the Nebo School District at the Teachers Academy, along with others from neighboring districts like Provo or Alpine.

Teri Davis is a special education teacher from Provo School District. She teaches P.E. to kids with disabilities around the district, so she’s constantly adapting to each school’s safety plan.

Davis said she knows schools are vulnerable to these situations and don’t have foolproof systems in place. It’s one of the reasons she’s taking the course.

“I'm a teacher that has my HAM radio license,” Davis said. “And in that way, I'm prepared for natural disasters or something like that. But I feel like this training also helps prepare us in a different way to be able to deal with an emergency.

She said she’s looking forward to learning more about how to deal with tactical situations and weapon familiarization.

“I feel like if I can do [my] small part to help keep people safe,” Davis said. “I would be happy to do so.”

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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