Local college to receive training from police while U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson presses Congress to change gun laws
By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
The tragic shooting last week at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Roseburg, Oregon, has drawn reaction from both Diablo Valley College (DVC) officials as well as Martinez’s representative in the U.S. House.
“It’s a sobering moment and a reminder,” Chrisanne Knox, DVC’s director of marketing and communications, said. “It’s always frightening – not only could it happen, it does happen.”
Long before the 26-year-old UCC shooter killed eight students and a teacher and wounded nine others Oct. 1, before apparently turning his weapon on himself, DVC had a safety committee formed, Knox said.
In addition, the college hired Herbert Lester as the risk manager for the colleges in the Contra Costa Community College District – Contra Costa College, Los Medanos College, the San Ramon Campus and the Brentwood Center, in addition to DVC.
In a letter to staff Lester sent shortly after the shooting, he wrote: “As a result of this unfortunate event, many questions are being asked regarding the level of awareness and preparation at our colleges should such an event occur.”
He wrote that no one could predict when such an attack might happen on a local campus, but promised that his company would be “vigilant in creating a safe environment for its students, employees and visitors.”
DVC’s Interim Police Chief Chad Werhmeister and Lester are joining the Contra Costa College campus safety committees in reviews of emergency preparedness procedures.
Lester provided staff with an “active shooter” training video to watch. In the meantime, Lester and Werhmeister are scheduling exercises that would give staff live practice related to a variety of safety issues. Those include encounters with armed individuals intent on causing harm to employees and students.
“Each new incident is a wakeup call, and I think this is the first community college [shooting]. That makes it close to home.”
– Chrisanne Knox, DVC’s Director of Communications
Knox herself knows she would be called on should such an incident happen at DVC, but acknowledged her specialty is communication, planning and managing responsibilities of different parts of the campus.
“The training will come from the police,” she said.
She said employees have undertaken various training voluntarily, but said the recent mass shooting may make some voluntary training mandatory. “Each new incident is a wakeup call, and I think this is the first community college [shooting]. That makes it close to home.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa), in whose district Martinez is situated, is the chairperson of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and urged members of Congress to enact “common sense” violence prevention laws.
“Every single time a mass shooting happens, we go through the same routine,” he said.
“Thoughts and prayers are sent. Statements are made. Stories are written. And nothing changes,” he said. “Mass gun violence has become as commonplace as it is tragic.”
He listed recent shooting incidents – the nine at UCC, the news reporter and camera operator in Virginia, a church prayer group in Charleston, South Carolina.
He singled out Congressional Republicans in particular, saying that after each of those incidents, they “have done nothing over and over again, and predictably the results have been the same: more innocent lives lost, more families forever changed and more mass gun violence.”
On the other hand, he said that hours before the UCC shooting, a bipartisan group of 147 members of Congress sent a letter asking Speaker of the House John Boehner to act on gun violence prevention.
“Our children should be safe in schools,” the letter said. “People should be allowed to workshop without threat of violence. Walking the neighborhoods of our cities should not be a high-risk activity. It is long past time that Congress addresses this national epidemic.”
Thompson was named chairperson of the task force shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a 20-year-old man shot 20 children and six adults after slaying his own mother and then killing himself.
The task force has conducted multiple hearings at which representatives of a broad spectrum of interests, from hunters to mental health officials, gave testimony.
Afterwards, Thompson introduced legislation to expand criminal background checks prior to commercial gun sales and expansion of existing federal prohibitions about selling guns to those with histories of mental health problems, substance abuse, violence and other risk factors.
At the same time, Thompson, who is a hunter who has attended gun training classes with the National Rifle Association, said the changes could be accomplished while preserving Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
“Let’s have this time be different,” Thompson said. “This time, let’s actually pull together and do something to make our country safer.”