I-TEAM: ‘We gotta protect our people;’ Teaching schools, businesses violence prevention and response

DAYTON — Following a deadly workplace shooting in the Miami Valley and just before the new school year starts, the News Center 7 I-Team is looking into safety and security inside our local businesses and schools and what’s being done to keep people safe from active shooters.

The I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, talked to a local company that trains teachers, students, business owners, and employees for those exact scenarios. This was part of the I-Team’s investigation into what’s being done to keep classrooms safe and save lives right here in the Dayton area.

We’ve seen school shootings in the Miami Valley in recent years – at Madison Junior/Senior High School near Middletown in 2016, at Liberty-Salem High School in Champaign County in 2017, and at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond in 2018.

There’s also gun violence happening at work. In May, a shooting after an argument at the DMAX plant in Moraine turned deadly.

Just days before the homicide at the DMAX plant, Randy O’Dell finished active shooter training with his 100 employees at Jaffe Decorating in Greenville.

“We all kind of looked at each other in our next management meeting and said, ‘Hey, you know, this could have happened here,’” O’Dell said. “No, we don’t want it to. And no, we don’t think it ever will. But if it ever were to happen here, we have to be able to react.”

And Jafe Decorating is not a space you’d expect employees to have to react to an active shooter. “We are strongly in the glass decorating business and very big in the candle industry,” O’Dell said. O’Dell is the president and owner of the decorative glass business that’s been operating in Greenville since 1978.

O’Dell told the I-Team his Darke County-based business put out 26 million pieces of glass in 2022. As he gave News Center 7 a tour of his facility earlier this month, O’Dell said he’s all about safety. “We handle millions and millions of pieces of glass every year so we’ve been very fortunate that we don’t have many cuts and we’ve never had any serious cuts,” O’Dell said as he reached out and knocked on a nearby wood table. “We do work with glass and do understand that there could be potential safety hazards.”

And O’Dell said recently the need for a different kind of safety training has become crystal clear. “We gotta protect our people,” O’Dell said. To help do that, he hired Mark Pohl.

Pohl spent 25 years in federal law enforcement working in violence prevention and response programs for the Department of Defense and the FBI. These days, Pohl is the founder and president of his own company, The Pohl Group, where he teaches those same violence prevention and response skills to businesses and schools in the Miami Valley and in other parts of Ohio.

“We assessed before we retired from government and looked out into the communities and thought, ‘you know, what do we see as the next emerging problem that we need to face and confront,’” Pohl told the I-Team. “And we did think that this problem of active shooter violence and other kinds of violence in our community would become the next area that we could help. And we wanted to share the knowledge and training and experiences that we have in this area on a community level. Kind of return to our roots, where we’re from, the people that we know, the businesses in the community, and offer those things to them to help create a safer community, a safer business. And provide training and equipment to help them deal with this problem.”

Part of the training Pohl and his company provide teaches people tactical medicine and first aid skills as well as how to react in violent situations and other emergencies.

The I-Team talked to Jafe Decorating employees about their experiences with the training Pohl provided for them this spring. “Now I know if there is trouble, if there was an active shooter, what I need to do,” Jafe Decorating process engineer, Austin Gray said.

This kind of training isn’t just happening at businesses in the Miami Valley. It’s happening at our local schools too. The I-Team was with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office earlier this month for active shooter training at Marion Local Schools.

School employees worked together with law enforcement officers from across Mercer County to go through simulated scenarios inside Marion Local Elementary/Middle School as a part of a two-day safety training session in Maria Stein.

“Without having the training, you don’t know how you’re going to respond,” Mercer County Sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Wuebker told the I-Team. “So, this kind of helps mold yourself into knowing how to respond to these types of situations.”

“You’ve got teachers down here helping and then they’re asking questions after the scenario, ‘What can I do to protect my kids inside the classroom?’” Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Doug Timmerman said. “So, they’re gaining some knowledge from that training too.”

The I-Team polled 18 local school districts across Auglaize, Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Logan, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby, and Warren counties.

Of the 14 districts that replied, most of them said they go through safety training for violent threats at least once a year. In addition to that training, state law requires districts to submit their emergency management plans to the Ohio School Safety Center, a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, for annual certification.

Jay Carey, a spokesperson for the Ohio School Safety Center, told the I-Team that the same state agency also handles mandatory compliance reviews of district emergency management plans every three years.

Pohl told the I-Team that another part of his training focuses on violence prevention. It’s called threat assessment. Pohl teaches clients the warning signs of potential violence to look for in co-workers or students so that people can intervene before things reach a fever pitch.

“When people become violent, there’s usually a reason why they become violent,” Pohl said. “And if we observe the indicators behind those who become violent, we can potentially catch those people before it happens.”

Here in Ohio, the “SAVE Students Act” took effect in 2021. The law deals with school security and youth suicide awareness. It requires every district to create a threat assessment team for each building within the district that serves 6th grade through high school. It’s aimed at identifying students of concern and getting them the help they need before any possible worst-case scenario.

The Ohio School Safety Center and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office each have threat assessment resources available on their websites.

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