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Law enforcement, officials reflect on lockdowns

By Staff | Dec 6, 2013

Area law enforcement leaders and local administrators agreed that the handling of the Nov. 27 lockdowns was done fairly well and that the learning experience was important.

Rugby Public Schools and the Heart of America Medical Center went on lockdown that morning after a suspicious death in Belcourt prompted a joint-agency manhunt for suspects.

Rugby Police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s department joined the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other area sheriffs and police departments until a signal 100 (essentially calling on all area law enforcement for surveillance of designated highways) was lifted early in the afternoon.

Rugby Police Chief John Rose was pleased with the communication between agencies, but is concerned by the way information was dispersed to the public.

“The only thing that really frustrated me was the media wasn’t getting info from a source (closer to the incident) and they couldn’t,” Rose said.

Rolette County Sheriff’s Department and Belcourt Police declined to release information beyond that suspects were sought in connection to a possible shooting at 4:30 a.m. Rose wanted to assure Rugby and Pierce County residents that there was no immediate threat and inform them with updates on his department’s Facebook page.

The Facebook page was updated three times with information on why institutions were on lockdown, what police were doing and encouraged citizens to tune in to local radio for updates. The three updates received a total of 148 shares and media outlets across the state used the information in lieu of information from law enforcement working more directly on the investigation.

“Essentially, everyone was left guessing,” Rose said. “I think we did a good job of getting the info out to the people in our community. The big media was using what we put on Facebook as a news release and they aren’t news releases.”?When schools in Wolford and Dunseith went on lockdown, Rose sent school resource officer Sgt. Justin Maus to the Rugby Schools to inform superintendent Mike McNeff about 8 a.m. The superintendent decided to err on the side of caution.

“In reality, there was no threat to the residents of Pierce County and Rugby, but you don’t know (for sure),” Rose said. “The school culture has change because of the past school shooting incidents. The hospital’s a little different because we don’t know, are the suspects, wounded and looking for medical care?”

Said McNeff: “They just let us know that the signal 100 was in place and there would be quite a few more police officers in area. I just thought, in this day and age, we want to keep our kids safe.”

McNeff said a active-shooter practice scenario set up in the Spring and regular school contact with the police leaves him confident.

“Last year, they allowed us to have a couple hours a week for a police officer to come in and eat lunch and get to know the kids,” McNeff said. “It was equally important, and the (officer) knows the building and layout. I think we communicate pretty well and that certainly helps.”

Pierce County Sheriff Matt Lunde was also pleased with the communication around Rugby and between the various law enforcement agencies.

“We feel everyone was where they needed to be and we got informed,” Lunde said. “We had more than enough personnel out there. It works well when you can contact each other and everyone puts their best foot forward and extra effort to make sure everyone is safe in the community.”

Jeff Lingerfelt, administrator of the Heart of America Medical Center, decided to lockdown at 9 a.m., which he later felt was a “little late to the game.”

“There was some confusion on our part,” Lingerfelt said. “The school is locked down, should we? Eventually we did. We learned from that some of the hardships, because it was a pretty cold day.”

HAMC had employees stationed indoors, but some elderly people stood outside longer than needed. Lingerfelt hopes to communicate better with law enforcement in the future, but did gain some reassurance about security plans.

“A month ago, we applied for a grant for additional security,” he said. “We felt more assured that we had made the right decision applying for that grant. There are a lot of doors. We have cameras at some. It was a learning experience and reinforced the need to improve security and surveillance.”

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