Incidents requiring RCMP officers don’t always happen at a time that’s convenient for the rest of the public. However, when these incidents involve local schools, there are protocols the officers follow to keep everyone as safe as possible.
On Wednesday, Sept. 21, around 2:30 p.m., Sylvan Lake RCMP officers attended to a residence on Lakeway Boulevard in town. When the officers entered the home, they were confronted by a suspect who pointed a firearm at them. Officers repositioned outside of the home, worked to contain the area and waited for officers from the emergency response team (ERT), Red Deer Police Dog Services and the Innisfail RCMP detachment.
Nearby schools were also contacted to keep children walking or taking the bus from entering the area, and although the suspect was eventually arrested, the incident lasted several hours.
Sylvan Lake RCMP Staff Sgt. Christopher Peden said once officers had backed out of the home, he was contacted.
“The members on scene had communicated with me what kind of event had taken place,” Peden explained. “With that, part of our protocols is to ensure public safety, with the ERT being deployed, and we started into the protocol of notifying schools.”
Peden said the timing of the incident, so close to the end of the school day, made the situation a bit difficult.
“In this case, given distance away from the location to the schools, we had requested the schools hold any children who would be walking home for that area, to have parents pick them up,” said Peden. “Later, there was a conversation with the school division about bus routes being affected and they took steps to ensure students were safe and obtained proper transportation home.”
Peden said the school division was advised that no traffic was being permitted into the area.
“We worked to ensure there was a safe alternative,” he explained.
Beacon Hill Elementary School, École Fox Run School and École Mother Teresa Catholic School were the affected schools.
Kurt Sacher, superintendent of schools for Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD), said he was proud of how the administration and staff in CESD schools handled the situation.
“I think typically we have a really good relationship with RCMP,” said Sacher. “We follow their lead in these circumstances, they’re the experts in these situations. We don’t ever question their judgment.”
Sacher said that once the schools were notified of the developing situation and the need to keep students away from the area, the process went as smoothly as it could.
“It’s aways unsettling when these things happen in the community,” he said. “But I can assure you, our staff are very well trained for these situations. When we got word, the staff were amazing; the administration handled it very calmly. To my knowledge, every student was looked after extremely well.”
While the timing of the incident couldn’t be helped, Sacher said he understands the RCMP are “dealing with tremendous stress in their world too, and we appreciate them for that. The police were dealing with a volatile situation, and their first priority is dealing with that situation.”
After the schools were notified, Sacher said the RCMP also contacted the division office in Innisfail about making sure busses were aware of the situation.
“Our bus drivers get training in these types of emergency situations,” Sacher explained. “They’re prepared for all of that.”
When it comes to alerting parents and guardians during any emergency situation, CESD utilizes an automated e-mail system for fast and efficient communication.
“As long as parents have their name as a contact and they’ve given us permission, the school or school division will send out something instantly,” Sacher explained. However, if parents feel like they need more information about what’s going on, Sacher said they can call the school directly or reach out to the CESD head office at 403-227-7070. For questions about students taking the bus, parents can contact the transportation department at 403-227-7072.
“But our main approach, if we know lots of parents will be worried, we want to swiftly send an e-mail or text message home,” said Sacher. “The first contact listed gets the automated message in a larger situation like this.”
The Sylvan Lake RCMP general investigation section now has carriage of the incident on Lakeway Boulevard and Peden said the investigation is ongoing.