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Transcript: Q&A with retired TPD officer Michael Widmer

Michael Widmer, author and retired Tucson police sergeant, answered readers' questions about his novel, "Intervention," and preventing mass shooting deaths.

  • Michael Widmer will be answering questions about his book, "Intervention," at noon Wednesday.

  • Read Kimberly Matas' article about Mike Widmer, "Novel by retired cop aims to prevent shootings."
  • Welcome to the chat. We are speaking with Michael Widmer, author and retired TPD sergeant. Michael has written a novel, "Intervention" about mass shootings. Included in the book are real-world suggestions Michael has for preventing shootings particularly at schools.
  • First time buyer, white male: future purchases need a closer look, why not start with this? Gun owners are still a minority in this country and carry outsized political clout to terrorize the majority, no?
  • I really think gun owners are not really the minority and I think at times the discussion prompts us to disagree and that may terrorize both sides when the discussion gets heated. The controversy over guns is a long standing issue that will not likely be resolved any time soon. Personally I welcome the discussion about guns. There is a middle ground that makes sense, and we just have to find it.
  • Michael, what is one thing everyone in Tucson can begin doing immediately to make our community safer from such attacks?
  • The first thing we can all do is agree that we won't solve the mental health issues and gun control disagreements before this epidemic ceases. Then we have to decide what steps to take in our existing schools and steps to take for new construction to keep would be gunmen out of our schools. Intervention was used as a title because it can be a cop who intervenes or maybe selected teachers or staff who have to defend the children until the cops get there. I recommend a long term goal of having old schools re-examined and new schools outfitted with the same attention to detail that we use to anticipate fires and other dangers. Then the schools, families and local law enforcement should begin to implement it.
  • How do you pla to do tho?
  • It sounds like you mean how do we prevent mass shootings in our schools. My best shortened response is to convince the schools and law enforcement that we need to keep an animal with a gun out of the portion of the school where the children are. This includes the playground. Then we have to use the tools at our disposal to make sure no one shoots anyone unless the shooter gets shot because they persist.
  • Gun ownership as well as all other debatable issues solutions all comes down to personal responsibility doesn't it?
  • I think you are right. Everyone has a responsibility to use reason and sound judgement when they are trying to resolve a problem. The owner of a gun needs to think long and hard about how they are going to use, maintain and control it. Owning, carrying it and facing the prospect of being faced with the decision to use it is definitely personal responsibility. In the problem resolution we should look closely at the past and resolve how we are going to change the way we protect our children. Our kids don't "find themselves" in a shooting situation, they are place there. It becomes the responsibility of government and our schools to obtain the tools at our disposal to deal with this.
  • Many of the suggestions you raise in the book, such as installing surveillance cameras that are continually monitored, fencing/walls around schools and bullet-proof entryways, are expensive and school budgets are strained. How do you think schools nationwide can pay for increased preventative measures?
  • Do any readers have suggestions for making schools safer?
  • First, let's be clear that all of us can agree that total change takes a little time. The imprint of the shot - out glass from Sandy Hook is forever a reminder to me that bullet proof glass is a must. But the imprint of the remark made just before the child was gunned down about "not wanting to be there" is even a more chilling reminder, considering the response was "well you are". Look, investigations cost a great deal of money in the aftermath. Alleviate two shootings and you begin to see how pointless it can be to spend millions finding out "why". And we spend a lot of money on other things that are much less important than the life of a child. Let's get a commitment to taking steps in the right direction, make some common sense changes that don't cost much and then we can look at how to elaborate over time. MONITORED CAMERAS ARE A MUST. THEY HAVE TO SEE THE THREAT COMING BEFORE IT STARTS.
  • Many families with children in school don't want a "fortress" for a school. They feel it takes away from the interaction between the neighborhood and the schools individually. What say you?
    by Kim edited by Johanna Eubank, tucson.com 8/27/2014 7:22:06 PM
  • I think I understand the concept. Raising our kids in a beautiful town, school with history, green grass, impressive columns, nice stadium for sports. In my experience over thirty five years in law enforcement I promise you this: If a shooting occurs in your child's school and your child doesn't survive, you will beg for a chance at the fortress. I agree one can go too far with security, but again, there is a balance of common sense and I feel like the ideas in my book are a good starting place.
  • Aren't schools currently trying to add security to their campuses?
  • Most schools are aware of the need for changes. Most have made some procedural changes that would have made a huge difference if just a little more could be done. I won't second guess any school that has been affected by all this, but I want to give a subtle example: In one school shooting the shooter came to the front door and it was locked. It was locked because that school changed their procedures. They required the doors stay locked all day. Problem was, the glass was shot out immediately. Would bullet proof glass helped? The doors to schools should be locked when there is an incident or robbery nearby. THEY SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN LEFT OPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE! And there are many other examples. The real answer to your question is that many schools are trying. We need to help them push harder. There are no do-overs to mass shootings.
  • I believe community involvement and awareness is a key to safety. Neighbors knowing each other knowing the kids and families that attend school. It's so diverse yet we divide from each other and it takes tragedy most times for communities to acknowledge that. It shouldn't wait for that. Do you believe officers who patrol our neighborhoods and keep us safe have a duty to know the people they are serving. I see police in my neighborhood all the time, when not on a call, they don't smile or say hi I just get a dirty look and a firm dismissal. And I respect what all our public servicemen/women do.
  • You raise a great point Joseph. The officers do need to know their area of assignment, the division where they work and they are expected to do so at Tucson Police. I haven't been out on the street since 2006 but I know that there are great expectations for community policing practice by our people in blue. I will say that at times they get pressed and they are less congenial than at other times, but believe me there is a heart beating in there. With regard to schools, just having an officer on campus serves a great purpose, and there are some School Resource Officers being assigned in the near future I understand. But trust me when I tell you that their presence on campus will result in being much too busy to watch over the grounds and make sure a masked madman isn't sneaking in. Every Tucson officer I know cares deeply about those they protect and they thank you for the respect to mentioned. And just so you know, in South Pasadena just a few days ago it was other school kids that brought the horrific plan the two students had to the school attention. In addition to the physical changes, there must be an on-going effort for teachers and law enforcement to reach out to the students so they will trust them enough to believe they will act swiftly and discretely.
  • Although not specifically addressed in your book, I've heard a couple security experts on national news advocate students -- even very young children -- should be taught to scatter and run when faced by a gunman on campus instead of cowering in a locked bathroom, classroom or storage closet, to make it harder to hit a moving target, so to speak. What are your thoughts?
  • There are varying ways to try and get away when it starts. You will hear many "tactics" like "duck and roll" or scatter and run. There might even be a half-reasonable way of teaching them. Now, let me say that most adults if I tried to get that message across to them would probably look at me and say, "are you even serious?" The reason would be that no one wants to go anywhere that has demonstrated an epidemic of mass shooting. Rather they would have me keep the gunman away. Let's be clear: Until we get provisions and changes in place to make a school able to survive an attack then there must be some mention of it. In Denver Public Schools they have come up with a new motto in the wake of getting over $200,000 dollars in security enhancing funding. Their motto is : "Don't scare em - Save em". I concur. These are defenseless children, especially the middle and grade schools. The thought of the little guys in their tennis shoes and jeans trying to hide and praying they don't get shot just makes me crazy. Let's focus on a plan to PREVENT. If we fail, then the last resort is to try and get out of the situation.
  • Exactly I agree the school resource officers do a great job, although I'm only privy to one's serving the Sunnyside school district. Yes they do have a heart I see the look on their faces that sometimes they don't agree with some laws but they have to do their job or they get in trouble. Sometimes they lose more than just their job if they fail to do their job. What kinds of things can you suggest the community do in conjunction with those officers serving their assigned areas to bring us all closer and cooperative.?
  • Each has a responsibility. The officers to not only do their job but do it with a solid degree of humanity. No one person is any more important than the other. They are humans and we can't expect perfection, but you should be able to tell they care. The community needs to support the police by understanding their limitations. They can't take sides but they must be able to see that a person is trying and not being a problem to everyone else in the community. I think the community at large does a fairly good job and it's always just the few that throw a wrench into the works. Take part in seeing what's happening. Pass it on to law enforcement. Be aware of what goes on around you. Yesterday in Ohio a fifteen year old girl was arrested because she said she was going to do a mass shooting and get the cops to kill her. You can bet she didn't tell that to the cops. But she did tell someone else. And that person didn't want to be around when the shooting started. Excellent example of working with the school and the law enforcement officials for the good of the students.
  • Police and Fire officials do practice training now to make the response more effective and fluid. Isn't that enough?
  • Yes, they practice regularly, and they include the schools. It is these exercises that I would like to see continue but I would also like to see the long term plan and the short term steps to change this effort to primarily PREVENTION. In the book the team leader keeps saying that you can't prevent a mass shooting unless you find an intelligible way of "getting there" before the shooting starts. I want people to know that I believe that intervention can not only be done by cops, but by select staff trained and armed if the need be and included in a plan with fire and law enforcement to use the school defense to make time for the cops to get there. It doesn't matter who prevents it, just that it's prevented. I commend all the response practice, it's necessary. But we need to dig in and try and stop these killings. The first time a school takes out a gunman and protects the kids everyone will look differently at this.
  • It seems to me that most shootings follow the pattern of individual isolates themselves from society, then goes insane, then gets their hands on weapons, then goes on a rampage. Is this mostly what you have found to be the case? And, if so, wouldn't the simpler solution be to be friends with the friendless instead of changing gun laws? Solve the problem, not the symptom.
  • The truth Steve? Even after the massive investigations the real bottom line or reason they did it is never really known with rare exception. Your point is well taken. If people were able to overlook petty differences then we could spot people being isolated and maybe encourage some that would have failed by being their friend. What makes a guy get on You Tube and tell the world he isn't going to let the young women in the world get away with rejecting him? And they kill people? I don't think we'll ever have the whole story. But I know this. He warned us, and he did what he said. I don't pretend to understand. But yes, if the world were a more friendly, compassionate place, then things might be different. And I don't think any more gun control will help this problem. Good thought Steve.
  • Let me ask the viewers: How can you answer this question: If a gunman pulled up to your child's school at nine-thirty in the morning, got out, pulled a mask over his head and walked directly to the front door of the school, could you expect that the school would be able to defend themselves and the children?
  • There hasn't been a school shooting in some time. What makes you think these will continue?
  • There hasn't been a large scale school shooting, but there have been school shootings. Nothing but the love of God and blessing prevented the last few. Two students planned to kill targeted faculty and as many of the 1500 kids as they could in South Pasadena according to reports. Another threatened to do much the same yesterday in Ohio. An active shooter was reported at Fort Lee but later dismissed as "resolved". So the clock is ticking folks. We were blessed with catching a few before they happened - an "intelligible way of getting there before the shooting starts".
  • Could some of the measures you are talking about to prevent mass shootings at schools also help thwart child predators? Or are these two separate safety issues?
  • Good question - Let's put it this way: I can't stand child predators or mass shooters. I mean I feel for any lifetime difficulties that led them to believe either was not inappropriate. But there are benefits to shoring up schools to able to withstand an attack. Cameras, though monitored for live activity during the day will also record what happens at night when they aren't monitored. Like watching video of three teens who planted a pipe bomb in an Aurora Colorado campus recently and resulted in arrest. The cameras will also spot potential predators watching children and trying to look for a target. It will also spot burglars in the area, and it can record vandalism. So yes the changes to the schools can make a difference in mass shootings and it can help with other crimes. It's like a big bonus for the buck. The issues are separate indeed. Mass shooting is not about safety. It's about prevention. School safety involves things that can be prevented. We need to get this mass shooting prevention over to that prevention level.
  • Thanks for chatting with us, Michael. We are about to wrap up, but one more question. You have a second novel finished and a third in the works. What are they about and when will they be published?
  • The sequel is written but I haven't set a date for publishing. The sequel deals with the same team that stars in the first one, but their concentration is expanded to include "slave-napping" or capture of women for sale overseas, child predators and child sexual assault and kidnapping , and some other unique crimes that you can imagine would be difficult to prevent, including "knockout". I want to thank you for allowing me to share time with your viewers and I look forward to everyone reading my book so that they will be ready for the sequel. There will be more real life recommendations in the sequel as well as more intervention in mass shootings. If you read the first book you will want to read the second one.
  • Thank you for joining us. The results of our unscientific poll are that 67% of people check in at the office but believe they could get away with just walking onto the campus.
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