CHICAGO - In the past two nights, FOX 32 Chicago has gone over what happens when a threat comes into a school, who handles it and where it goes. But what if the threat is real and becomes a reality?
In part three of "Students Under Fire," we take a look at what police officers do to make sure kids are kept safe.
Schools and local police departments prepare for the worst.
"And if something happens in my school, if I hear shots, I'm running straight to it," said Officer Jay Leonardi, an Aurora School Resource Officer (SRO).
Every time an incident occurs, SROs are watching, processing, and improving what to do if it were to happen to their school.
Plainfield police and fire allowed FOX 32 Chicago to tag along during one of their active school shooter training drills over the summer.
They do the drills twice every year and mix it up every time, with different scenarios based on what has happened locally, like Aurora's Henry Pratt shooting in 2019, with a shooter firing from a doorway.
Or what’s happened recently, like the Uvalde shooting in May where officers thought the door was locked.
"Initial reports was the door was locked and they were trying to figure out their way in, so obviously that's something that hasn't come up before," said Sgt. Colin Mulacek of the Plainfield Police Department.
The top priority is to neutralize the shooter.
"If you stopped to treat your victims as you come in, dying continues to the killing continues. So you have to go after your immediate threat first," Mulacek said.
Once that happens, they turn their attention to the victims.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, last school year was the most violent with 93 total school shootings — 43 of them deadly.
"These incidents are only open to somebody's imagination. So, whatever you come up with, to get your guys ready and prepare them for it. That's what we try to do," said Mulacek.
After Uvalde and the criticism that followed, FOX 32 wanted to sit down with the first line of defense in schools: School Resource Officers, also known as SROs.
We met three of them from different communities.
Their experience varies from a Plainfield sergeant who’s in charge of his department’s SROs to a detective from Joliet with three years in schools, and a rookie SRO in Aurora.
"It's like being a police officer in a small city, almost 3,000 kids. If something happens, you're the first one going to whatever incident that is," said Officer Leonardi.
Like the rest of us, they watched what unfolded inside Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School on May 24.
"We hope to God that nothing ever like that would happen. What if, unfortunately, if something like that did, we'd be prepared," Leonardi said.
It's not an easy topic for police to discuss what took place and what we saw in the surveillance videos.
"It's kind of hard to watch. I mean, you would think that you know maybe it's just something needs to happen quicker. Like I said, I wasn't there or part of the planning, or understand what was going on, but you hate to see that much time pass," said Detective Jamere Price, a Joliet School Resource Officer.
All three say they prepare for disaster routinely, get to know the blueprint of the school and mentally prepare for incidents in different locations.
"What are you going to say on the radio? How are you going to call for help? Where are you going to go?" said Leonardi.
They also welcome patrol officers to stop by and walk-through schools learning the layout, and school maps are made available for first responders.
In Plainfield, officers have building swipe cards for easy access.
SROs are there to protect, but they are also there to talk to students.
"You're a counselor, you're a social worker, to some extent, you're an educator, the law enforcement aspect, sometimes the smallest part of the job," said Price.
So, if something does occur, the trust is already there.
"We don't want our guys to go through life completely on edge all the time. But you have to be prepared. You don't rise to the occasion. You fall to your level of training. And that's what we hope our guys are going to do," Sgt. Mulacek said.
If your student or someone you know has a school safety issue, you can report it confidentially through a new state program.
The website is safe2helpil.com.