SRO works to help ensure a safe campus

Officer Emenaker coordinates the work of school safety team


Ashlynn Bakemeyer

Office Tabetha Emenaker directs traffic after school.

Ashlynn Bakemeyer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

After the devastating school shooting that took place at Oxford High School in Michigan in late November, several questions have been raised about the overall safety and security procedures implemented in schools. 

However, on the Hill, school resource officer Mrs. Tabetha Emenaker wants to make sure that students are reassured and aware that there are strict safety measures that their school incorporates to prevent any type of threat on campus. 

Sophomore Monica DeSanto said that she does feel safe on the Hill. “I think Cathedral does a great job preparing us for dangerous situations. I know the authorities will let us know if we are ever in danger,” DeSanto said. 

Emenaker said that one of these preventive courses of action that create a secure campus is the school’s safety team. “They discuss safety measures that we need to take or put into place for proactive measures. The safety team is composed of various staff members who discuss what the needs are of their building, what concerns they have. If you get just my view of it, it’s only my view. I like to hear everybody else’s view because they might see what I don’t see. It’s a family effort,” she said. 

Intruder drills also contribute to keeping a safe and prepared environment on the Hill. However, some question the strength of these intruder drills. DeSanto said, “I feel like the amount of intruder drills we have won’t change how we’d react in a situation like this.” 

Others question the effectiveness of these drills if the intruder would be a former or current student. Emenaker said, “A majority of the time, (the intruder) is a student. When there is an active intruder, lockdown procedures go into place. The (information technology) department would disable entry to doors (and) electronic entries. I would be (the police and fire department’s) first line of communication. My job is to immediately go to the threat. When I do that I have the school radio and I switch to a specific channel and an IT department personnel immediately goes to the cameras and starts telling me where they see the (intruder).” 

My job is to immediately go to the threat.”

— SRO Tabetha Emenaker

Emenaker added that there is another group in the works that will establish an even safer school. “I’m going to be developing a threat assessment team and that is going to be composed of myself, one of the head members of the counseling department, the nurse, somebody from IT, an administrator and maybe one more.” Emenaker noted the difference between the safety team and the threat assessment team saying, “The threat assessment team addresses an immediate issue that’s going on and does an evaluation.”

This new program was allowed due to the Supreme Court’s ruling which affected the implementation of Fourth Amendment and search and seizure. Emenaker said, “The Supreme Court lowered that in a school-based environment because they said that the safety of the greater number of students far outweighs the privacy of one. So if there is a minimal chance that there is a threat, without having probable cause, we can go in and search the student, their car, their locker, their cell phones, their iPads.” This also diminishes the line that divides privacy rules between public and private schools in these situations. 

Emenaker described the roles and importance of each member of the threat assessment team. “Let’s say we have a student who’s showing signs that meet all of those check boxes and is a safety concern, I would be the one who responds and makes sure that that person is not in any immediate danger to themselves or to anybody else. If the threat includes IT usage, then we would have IT start pulling their history. If they are assigned a counselor and have some mental health issues, any kind of stressors, we would have (the counselor) assess them and make sure that they don’t need some immediate mental health treatment that is more of an emergency. 

“You still have to make sure that they’re OK, as well as everybody else. The nurse is there to make sure that there isn’t a medical condition that needs to be addressed right away, make sure that they’re medically cleared. And an administrator is there to make the determination if we need to maintain the student at school or have them outside of school pending. There’s a review done and if we determine that they can’t continue their education, we would say, ‘These are the guidelines, and we want to keep you here if we can, but if you don’t meet those, then we can’t continue to provide an education to you.’”

As a school resource officer, Emenaker has had to go through many programs and attend several meetings. “I go to the Marion County Safe School commission meetings every month, and that’s where multiple schools come to those and we discuss any type of concern, safety measures and resources that we can utilize at schools. I am also Indiana Police Academy certified. I had to take the SRO training, which is a one-week course. I took that the first month that I was hired here back in 2018.”

Because of her certification with the Indiana Police Department, Emenaker said that her radio connects to all of the police in the area. She said, “So if I call for help, they’re going to come from everywhere.”

An additional safety requirement that the school applies is a threat assessment. Emenaker said, “Basically we have an individual come in who is law enforcement and they look at the outside, the exterior of the school, entry points, the interior of the school, everything from lighting, alarms, cameras, entrances coming in and going out to assess any vulnerable areas.”

If the tragic event of a school shooting were to happen, reunification systems are important in bringing children back to their parents as soon and as safely as possible. Emenaker said, “We’re going to be in the process of trying to start utilizing one of the reunification systems, hopefully (this) semester. There’s various different systems that we can use. There’s one that’s called ‘I Love U Guys’ that was developed by a gentleman whose daughter was killed in a school shooting years ago. It shows us how to react as far as lockdowns and exterior reunifications.”

The school has also invested in several safety improvements.“We’ve gotten some new lock systems on some of the doors. We’ve also gotten a lot of new cameras. We also replaced some of them because we went from analog to digital. I can even pull up any of the cameras from anywhere on the campus on my phone to watch them. I can even do it from home if I want to. I can call those back for weeks and look at camera views. In instances when a detective calls me and requests to look at a video, all I have to do is download it and email it.”

There are other aspects to school safety that Emenaker said she would like to add to campus. “I do want to talk to the school about getting a door lock system that goes on the bottom of the doors in each classroom. Basically you shut the door and hit a pole and it goes down into the ground. Police can’t even breach those. There’s only two keys that are issued,” she said. 

The school resource officer also had advice for students if there is ever a situation with an intruder. “One of the most important things to remember when you are in a situation where there is an active intruder, a lot of people just use predominantly only one sense, which is your vision. You can’t just focus on that. You have to listen and you have to smell. Sometimes when using firearms, you can smell when the rounds go off. I did an exercise when I first worked here where I brought a rifle and a handgun that had blanks in them. 

“I went to a different part of the school while everybody was down in the old cafeteria, and I fired rounds off from high-powered rifle blanks. And they never even heard them. If you were to exit and you go around a corner because you didn’t hear it, you could walk right into the line of fire. That’s why it’s important that you stay put until you are told to leave in the proper way,” Emenaker said. She added that if there is a circumstance when students have been told to exit the building, the safe drop level out of a window is 30 feet above the ground. 

Lanyards are also a crucial part of keeping the campus safe. Emenaker said, “I’ve seen people set (their lanyards) down and just walk off, and I pick them up. I don’t want them to just sit there and have someone else pick them and take it somewhere. If I have a student who lost their lanyard, I’ll ask what their name is and I’ll go have their lanyard deactivated until they find it. If you ever lose you lanyard, email the IT department and tell them, ‘I cannot find it. Can you deactivate it until I find it?’ Because you don’t want someone to go off and sell it to Joe Schmo and say, ‘Hey, you can go in here. There’s a lot of stuff in here.’” 

However, Emenaker said the locked doors have caused other issues. “I think having the lanyards is obviously necessary because we have more locked and secured doors. I’m glad we have those, but one of my biggest problems is students being courteous to the point that they let strangers in.” Emenaker advised students to talk to the strangers through the door and let them know to go to the front doors where they will be let in. 

The Oxford High School shooting was an unfortunate eye-opening tragedy. DeSanto said, “I felt more worried because it made it sound like a more common occurrence. For example, there were 30 shots fired that only lasted minutes. I felt even worse because the articles made the school sound very prepared and like they did everything they could while still losing students.” 

Emenaker said that the school and the alleged shooter’s parents should both be held somewhat accountable. “I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what they did and did not do. Based off of my training and experience, the fact that the parents came in that day and the drawings that they had, they already had a minimal chance of a threat. And from what I heard, the parents left without him. I would have secured him in place, I would have searched him and I would have told the parents, ‘If you do not remove him from this building now, I’m going to call Protective Child Services and have them remove him.’ 

“I think that if he had been secured in place, I think there’s a possibility that it could have been prevented. I also think (his parents) are going to have some major culpability. I think there’s some serious negligence there.” 

DeSanto added, “I feel like they could have looked into red flags more and earlier signs to try and give the accused shooter some guidance into not doing something they may regret.”

Emenaker said that the school’s core values already provide students with a more secure campus. “With Cathedral the students are bound by a code of ethics. The kids here are held to a higher standard. If you have involvement with law enforcement in a negative manner outside of school and you don’t advise the school of it, and I find out about it before they do, then you go to disciplinary boards. I think the fact that Cathedral holds you to a higher standard, not just in school but also outside of school, is something that’s very valuable to have,” she said. 

Emenaker provided a final suggestion to help keep the campus safe. She said, “I need everybody’s eyes and ears. If you see something, say something. I can’t be everywhere, but I can do my best to protect you.”