Public Safety drills out a protest

By Brendan Myrick - Staff Reporter

Student protesters were encouraged by a Highline professor to throw water bottles and yell at Public Safety on Tuesday.

Fortunately, it was a Public Safety drill involving Des Moines Police and student volunteers, which took place outside Building 28 on May 16 at 9 a.m.

The focus of the drill was to train Public Safety officers for scenarios involving protestors and what action is needed at the moment.  

Dr. Steve Lettic, a former Des Moines Police Officer, gathered some of his students to re-enact an "environmental" protest for Public Safety.  Students shouted made-up phrases such as "green lives matter," "save the trees" and "can you absorb CO2? I don't think so."  Students also kicked and threw plastic bottles near officers and marched toward officers and around Building 28.

David Menke, director of Public Safety, went on to explain the drill's purpose was to make sure Public Safety is up to speed with Highline's protocols and procedures.

The drill was, "to test our operating procedures and practice coordination, communication with Des Moines Police and train Public Safety for emergency events," Menke said.

Public Safety officers worked on blocking off routes from outsiders and directing protesters away from areas that led to the parking lots or buildings.  Public Safety also communicated through dispatch with Des Moines Police to explain the scenario and direct the police officers to the scene.  Public Safety cannot arrest protestors, only police can.

In a real-life scenario, Des Moines Police would be contacted if protesters turned violent and started acting aggressively towards Public Safety or others.   From there, police officers can bring a civil disturbance team and make arrests.

"A civil disturbance team is multi-jurisdiction," Sgt Mike Graddon of Des Moines Police said. "They would form like SWAT, with several members from different groups of law enforcement."

After the drill, Public Safety and members of Des Moines Police got together and discussed what went well and what areas need to be worked on.

Sgt. Graddon also reminded Public Safety when police should be contacted and what determines when protesters cross the line from legal to illegal.  

"When the first amendment rights get thrown out the window is when there is vandalism and assault." He said.

Students and staff who participated in the drill also got to learn how Public Safety handles a scenario such as a large protest and how they adjust to changes in behavior.

"I think it was good training for them" said Ryan, one of the student participants. "If it were real, there would have been a lot more violence for officers to deal with."

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