“Should something like [a shooting] happen, you will have a full blown response from the Police Department,” said Alexandria City Chief of Police Michael Brown, the city’s leader on school safety issues.
Brown said, “There is no more tragic or frightening situation in any environment than to have an active shooter or an aggressor. Our expectation for School Resource Officers (SROs) is to restore the peace as quickly as possible by whatever means necessary.”
Brown has been part of law enforcement for 43 years and has witnessed many situations that contributed to his rich experience in policing, “I spent 32 years on the California Highway Patrol [and] retired as commissioner. Two years before that, I was with the California Department of Justice and retired as Deputy Secretary of Public Safety.”
Brown was appointed to the Senior Executive Service and served at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He spent seven years there as the Director of Impaired Driving and Protection. He spent a lot of time with law enforcement, “but I missed being a cop,” said Brown.
He applied for police chief jobs, and his current position in Alexandria opened up. “[The Alexandria Police Department] is a great organization,” said Brown, “I’ve had experiences throughout my career to work with a lot of different agencies across the nation, and as a result I’ve come to respect good agencies when I see them.”
The Alexandria Police Department and T.C. Williams have a very strong and positive partnership. The department works to prevent the presence of an active shooter and maintain peace between students through the SROs. They also work with the administration to provide a safe environment for students and staff.
To prevent a school shooting, Brown said, “We follow a lot of the after action reports to understand exactly what we are missing here.”
The Police Department also provides tactical training in terms of how the officers respond, “We train on an annual basis and we have major exercises periodically throughout the year. The more we train for that type of scenario, the more we can be prepared should it happen. We need to understand what to anticipate if we go into active shooter situations.”
The SROs also have specifically designed training courses, “There are SRO training programs that are not only provided through the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also external training by others who are involved in this process. Our people are all trained and certified. I am very proud of the ones we have in there now.”
Each party of this scenario would have to contribute to ensure safety for everyone. Brown urges all students to take drills, whether they be lock-down, fire, or tornado, very seriously, “I think in this day and age, you have to be prepared for any potential situation that could happen. Those kinds of situations can happen anywhere. You want to know what to do should this situation ever arise.”
Although a school shooting is a very remote possibility for T.C., one such problem that occurs periodically is physical altercations, “Fights are a disruption of the peace. A fight is something that runs contrary to having a safe and welcoming environment for people to learn. We expect our officers to respond to that as quickly as we can.”
However, Brown stressed the importance of solving the issue before a problem like this occurs, “[It is] key.” He said that sometimes “students know more than we do. People share so that we can stop it before it becomes a problem. That does not mean someone gets arrested and goes to jail, but it does mean that we find a way to deal with the issue before someone starts throwing fists around.”
In addition to the students speaking about their problems to their peers, the SROs develop relationships so students can openly discuss problems they are having. “I’ve talked to SROs since I’ve been here, and in many cases, they hear things from students that just want to give them a heads-up that things aren’t right. It is very positive for the Police Department [and is] caused by the officers’ willingness to listen and interact with the students. [They] have a big heart for the kids that are there.”
If there ever is a fight, Brown said that “what we try to do is [resolve] a situation with the least amount of force.”
Not only does the Police Department work directly with ACPS schools, but they also collaborate with the Alexandria Community. “We do not just always send officers out there to do patrol,” said Brown, “we work with the community and the neighborhood associations so that people can start talking, listening, and sharing. Oftentimes, we find out about information through those sources that do not result in a 911 call because we are able to go out and try to deal with those at the front end.”
One example of the issues the Police Department encounters a lot is mental health challenges by members of the community. When they receive phone calls from people who notice this kind of issue in their neighborhoods, the officers are able to go out and do an essence of welfare check. Residents of the city can contribute to peoples’ safety by speaking up, “If you hear something, you say something.”
Brown said, “We are very much aware of the school and I will tell you that the men and women of this Police Department recognize that the young people are [the] future and we are committed to [keeping them safe].”
“I love this job,” said Brown, “and it is not because it is great to be chief, most of the time I wasn’t a chief. It is great to make an effort to leave fingerprints in the world in which we live. It’s not always easy, but you can leave fingerprints and that’s what it’s all about and I am proud to be a part of it.”
“Don’t ever lose sight of learning, it’s a lifelong process. Don’t ever [stop] questioning, even the police,” Brown said, “and more importantly, never lose your spirit because it can carry you through a lot.”