NewsOlathe East Shooting


Retired police chief talks about the role of student resource officers in schools

John Douglass
Posted at 4:44 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 17:10:42-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is still a lot we don't know about what happened at Olathe East on Friday.

However, John Douglass can offer some perspective after working during several active shooter situations and spending time in schools as a former officer.

Douglass, now retired, had a 41-year career at the Overland Park Police Department, the latter half spent as police chief. After that, he went to the Shawnee Mission School District as the director of emergency services.

He spoke about the Olathe East shooting, which ended in injuries to a student, school administrator and student resource officer.

"I wasn't there and I don't know the exact details but what I've heard as reported in the press and from what it appears to be, I think they did a very good job," Douglass said, calling the incident a "textbook response."

Douglass has experienced his share of shooting incidents.

Douglass was about to retire from the Overland Park Police Department when the Jewish Community Center shooting took place. When he was at SMSD, Highlands Elementary School was hit by gunfire from someone shooting down the street.

"There was some confusion about when we let the kids out and how we let the kids out, and I think we learned a lot about that," Douglass said. "We study every single thing that comes down and try to make it better."

During his time at SMSD, Douglass said there would be 10 to 12 incidents a year where someone reported a student had a gun.

"And some of the time they did, and some of the time they didn't. But we were able to successfully make those situations safe," Douglass said.

From his experience, he says the first priority is for the administrator and the SRO to get the student to the office or a place without a lot of people. Then they'd ask for the student to give them their bag, and from there, they'd confiscate the weapon.

"It's always possible someone can withdraw a weapon but what's the alternative?" Douglass said. "You can't just simply tackle a person to the ground on a basis of somebody else saying something and immediately start manhandling them and searching them."

Douglass said it's complicated because SROs and the school administration are there to protect, but they also have to respect a person's rights.

The Olathe Police Department told KSHB 41 that to become an SRO, officers go through a selection process that the department and the school district review. They also complete at least 40 hours of yearly department training, as well as special training through the national SRO association.

How far does this go, though, to prevent future active shooter situations in schools?

"In a society where we are free and open and guns are available, there is no way to absolutely guarantee a student will not bring a gun to school," Douglass said.

He also doesn't think metal detectors are the perfect solution.

"They are expensive to operate, not because of the machinery but because of the personnel involved," Douglass said. "It takes about three or four people to do. Those resources can be placed in a different way and have much better result."

He said all of us are responsible. He points to safe and responsible gun ownership by parents. He emphasizes the importance of building relationships with kids.

When he was at SMSD, he said his SROs wanted an arm patch of a sheep dog because they felt that it was their duty to protect the lambs. Every SRO should have that mindset, Douglass said.

"The whole idea of having resource officers and school police officers is not to put them in the system, it's to keep them out of the system," Douglass said.

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