Don Schnitker. (DPS photo)

An Iowa Department of Public Safety Special Agent In Charge is the first chief of the new School Safety Bureau Governor Reynolds announced in June.

Special Agent Don Schnitker says the goal of the Governor’s School Safety Bureau is to be a new resource.

“We’re not mandating the schools changed their protocols, we’re not telling local law enforcement to have to do anything different than they’ve been doing in the past,” Schnitker. “We’re just here to provide them better resources, in our law enforcement community in our schools are prepared. I think our schools in Iowa are safe. But we’re in a position now to provide services that I think can help them do it better.”

The governor has allocated 100 million dollars to the program.  Schnitker has been in law enforcement 21 years — including the last 17 years as part of the  DCI’s Major Crime Unit. He knows from experience that these issues are not going away.

“We can, might not be able to prevent everything, but I think we can train for the worst and hope for the best. And the better prepared we are to respond, the better hardened our schools are to deter the threat, the better our teachers and our local partners are trained on recognizing concerning behavior early on will help prevent these,” according to Schnitker. His first step is hiring the team that he’ll lead.

“A team of analysts to analyze some of our data, we’re gonna get a full-time training specialist to help provide that training to schools and our local partners. We’re excited about a new, anonymous reporting tool — it’ll probably be an app that some of our students can use, and parents can use to report concerning behavior,” he explains.

One of the first things they plan to do is provide training. “We’re going to be working with Homeland Security and the Department of Education on vulnerability assessments. For our bureau, we’re hiring training a specialist specifically that will help train our first responders and teachers in the alert training,” he says. “That’s the training program, we think, nationally is, is the best training program out there. It teaches law enforcement how to respond to active shooter incidents.”

He says that training isn’t just tailored to law enforcement — it can also better prepare educators. “Whether that being secure in their rooms better or evading the threat. Those are kind of the resources we want to get out so that if something like this happens, you know, the teachers in the local community have a plan,” he says.  One other resource is a dedicated emergency radio that will be offered to any district that wants one.

“I think that radio will be a good tool for schools to have that resource available that if they have a concern or there’s a threat on the property, they can get that communication which is so vital to local law enforcement immediately, Schnitker says.

Schnitker says all students should know that Iowa schools are very safe and this isn’t a response or a fear that something’s going to happen. He compares it to wearing your seatbelt in the car — you don’t expect to get into an accident — but you are prepared and safer with a seatbelt if it does.  Schnitker is working to get many of these things in place and ready for the start of the school year this fall.