Police Chief Urges Sharpening Mashpee School District Weapon Policy
By: Elsa H. Partan
Mashpee Police Chief Rodney C. Collins Wednesday urged the school committee to revise its policy on how to respond to a report of a weapon after a Mashpee High School student brought an Airsoft gun to school on April 11.
Chief Collins said MHS administrators should have called police to the school immediately when a student told them she saw a gun in another student’s waistband.
Instead, administrators confronted the student themselves. That action is consistent with the school district’s current policy, which allows administrators to make a judgment about whether or not to call police when a weapon is found.
School committee members said they were receptive to making changes to the policy.
“If you believe that it needs to be reassessed and reassigned, then we support that entirely,” Chairman Kathy G. Stanley said to Chief Collins.
Airsoft guns are replica firearms that are meant to look realistic. They shoot plastic pellets and are used for recreation and some forms of training.
New details emerged about the incident and the student involved. In a phone interview yesterday, Chief Collins said that he obtained a Twitter message posted by the student that shows views that are antisocial, if not disturbed.
The message read, in part, “We keep em cocked with an extra clip, he gone need more than medicine. My bro already met the top shootas out here & done earned they respect already…”
Chief Collins said the social media message demonstrates that administrators may not have had all the information they needed to determine whether the student was a threat.
“From what I understand, [assistant principal Timothy M. Rumberger] felt comfortable doing what he did,” Chief Collins said, referring to the fact that Mr. Rumberger confronted the student and asked him to come to the office.
“He was familiar with the student. You may think you know the student but in reality that could be a dangerous choice with some serious ramifications,” Chief Collins said.
The student who brought the air gun to school is now out of state, according to Chief Collins. No charges have been filed, he said. He declined to say where the student went and why.
The police chief said several details about the air gun incident show that people could have been placed in danger if the gun had been real.
Mr. Rumberger, the assistant principal, was in a meeting with Principal Jane A. Day and Deputy Officer Shaun Cahill of the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department when a tutor arrived in the office escorting a student. The student reported that she saw a gun in the waistband of another student. The student had earlier told the tutor, “I saw a gun. I know what the shape of a gun looks like because I watch ‘Law and Order,’ ” according to Chief Collins. The accused student was elsewhere in the school at the time.
Mr. Rumberger and Ms. Day excused themselves from the meeting with Officer Cahill without telling him about the report of a gun, Chief Collins said.
Mr. Rumberger asked a teacher who was in the office to accompany him in finding the student accused of having a gun. Mr. Rumberger and the teacher found the student and led him to the main office.
Just before he entered the office, with the two school officials walking in front of him, the student stooped and placed the air gun on the floor of the hallway, Chief Collins said. Neither the teacher nor Mr. Rumberger saw him do this and continued into the office. However, a secretary observed the student stoop and heard the sound of something heavy hitting the floor, she reported to Chief Collins. The secretary did not touch the gun, which she suspected was real. She stood next to it and flagged down another teacher who alerted the principal and vice principal.
Administrators asked Officer Cahill to speak with the student before he left about the dangers of bringing an air gun to school. Administrators left two messages at 5 PM and 6 AM for a Mashpee police detective, who was off-duty at the time.
“The fact that the suspect student discarded the item in question prior to entering the administration office validates my concern that a trained police officer who focuses on pat frisks and is alert to watching hands is the person who should be confronting a student reported to be in possession of a firearm,” Chief Collins said to the school committee Wednesday.
“Police officers are generally granted latitude in the scope of pat frisks for dangerous weapons under parameters established by settled case law such as Terry versus Ohio and Commonwealth versus Ferrioli.”
The moment the student reported that she saw a gun, police should have been called, Chief Collins told the Enterprise yesterday. He recommended that school staff not approach the student suspected of having a gun. Rather, they could have made up excuses to call the other students away from the area.
Chief Collins opened his comments to the committee by saying that he wanted to speak in a public session to comply with open meeting law. He did not mention that superintendent Ann M. Bradshaw had requested that he speak to the committee in executive session, which is closed to the public, as was previously reported in the Enterprise.
The question of when to notify police about a possible threat also came up in October 2006, when a Quashnet 5th grader told his class he would “kill everyone one-by-one.” Parents criticized Ms. Bradshaw for not notifying police or parents about the incident.
At the time, the school department policy manual directed school officials to “have a police officer make an investigation” if a crime is committed on school property. In November 2006 Ms. Bradshaw said, “it would have been better to communicate with the police department...we plan to do that with similar cases in the future,” according to the Enterprise archive.
The superintendent vowed to review school policy at Wednesday’s meeting. Whatever protocol is best will be followed, she said.
“If that means ‘Gun-911’ that is what we will do,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “The last time we looked at the protocol it was 2009. It’s time to do it anyway. It’s too bad that we got to this place, but we’re going to move forward.”
School committee member Jose L. Franco said that safety should not be taken lightly.
“The administrators are with the students every day,” he said. “They drop their guard down. We don’t have that luxury. It only takes one time.”