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District, RCMP ramp up security at three schools

Brita Power was among parents who were met by security guards at Cilaire Elementary School when they picked up their children Tuesday. Nanaimo District and Dover Bay secondary schools were also under protection by police and security guards after security protocol action was put into action by RCMP and the school district. - Chris Bush photo
Brita Power was among parents who were met by security guards at Cilaire Elementary School when they picked up their children Tuesday. Nanaimo District and Dover Bay secondary schools were also under protection by police and security guards after security protocol action was put into action by RCMP and the school district.
— image credit: Chris Bush photo

A potential threat to safety of staff and students led to increased security at three Nanaimo schools and the District Administration Centre this week.

Private security guards were placed outside of Cilaire Elementary School and Nanaimo District and Dover Bay secondary schools as well as district headquarters Tuesday and Wednesday and the heightened security measures were expected to continue today (Feb. 7) and possibly tomorrow.

“We’re aware of a situation in the community that gives us some concern about safety at three schools and the district office,” said Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman. “An individual in the community is giving us some cause for concern.”

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said an employee of the district who is currently not working allegedly threatened other people involved with the district and while police were investigating, the individual threatened police officers, for which he was arrested.

He said the person spent about five weeks in jail after pleading guilty to threatening the police officers and was released Tuesday, with probation conditions.

“We felt it was prudent to increase security around several buildings where individuals work that this person had some concerns with,” he said. “This is just a precautionary measure. There’s nothing to indicate this person will arrive at these buildings.”

School liaison officers are also involved, O’Brien added.

Reimer said information shared between the district and police through the threat assessment protocol led to the decision to heighten security, but she could not comment further other than to say that there have been no direct threats against the three schools or the district office.

“It’s a balance on the individual’s right to privacy versus giving people the information they need to make a decision,” she said. “Once you become aware of even the slim possibility, you need to take steps to protect the building and people in it. We know that that’s a better way to respond than just saying, ‘We’ll see what happens.’”

Reimer said officials will reassess the situation on a day-to-day basis.

Parents who arrived to pick up their children at Cilaire Tuesday afternoon were greeted by the sight of several private security guards outside the school and police cruisers patrolling along Departure Bay Road.

Brita Power, who has one child in kindergarten at the school, said she went in and asked school staff what was going on as soon as she saw all of the security in place, but no one was able to tell her anything.

“I’m not comfortable right now,” she said. “It’s not an awesome situation, but we’ll just have to go with it.”

Cindy DuTemple, who was picking up her grandson, said her heart skipped a beat when she saw the guards, but she is more curious at this point than worried.

“I’m not especially worried yet because I haven’t seen anything and don’t know anything,” she said. “Hopefully it’s one of those acting out of an abundance of caution things.”

The threat assessment protocol was developed several years ago in conjunction with RCMP and other community partners.

The last time a potentially threatening situation in the district made the news was in 2010, when an unstable visitor and a threatening graffiti message required police presence at two different schools on the same day.

In February 2009, graffiti promising a ‘boom’ forced all five secondary schools in Nanaimo to close temporarily one morning and in 2008, two indirect threats sent NDSS into lockdown mode one morning.

Reimer said she is sure threat assessment teams have come across other situations that did not make the news because the situation did not require a high-level response.

The protocol defines a threat as “an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something” and it can be verbal, written, drawn, posted on the Internet or made by gesture. Reimer said all threats will be investigated and taken seriously.

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