Detroit school board debates use of armed officers as district receives 16 threats

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — More than a dozen threats have been made against Detroit public schools on social media since the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School, but none were found to be credible, officials announced Tuesday. 

The individuals behind all but one of the 16 threats made against schools in the Detroit Public Schools Community District have been identified, said Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti at the district's virtual board of education meeting. All but one are students in the district, and most made threats against their own school. 

While the district had an active shooter plan before the shooting in Oxford, Vitti added, all school principals have since been asked to review the "Code Red" drill with staff and students.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy since Nov. 30 has charged at least 30 juveniles with allegedly making threats against county schools.

The threats came in the two weeks since a classmate was charged with  opening fire at Oxford High, leaving four students dead and injuring seven people, including one teacher. 

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has since Nov. 30 charged at least 30 juveniles for allegedly making threats against county schools, including four new charges announced Tuesday. Similar charges have been brought against juveniles in Oakland County. 

A review of the district's building security apparatus, including metal detectors, also was being conducted, Vitti said, and plans were put in place for further active shooter training for employees in conjunction with the school district's Police Department.

The superintendent also addressed what he described as confusion about armed officers in the school district, saying rumors that it was planning to "defund the police" that began after it had offered campus officers a buyout were untrue. 

Vitti emphasized the difference between the Police Department's 28 armed officers who patrolled but were not stationed at schools, the campus officers who receive special certification to be armed and were permanently stationed at around 13 neighborhood schools in the district, and unarmed security guards who would be hired to replace campus officers when they resign or retire. 

A debate began between school board members, who raised fears about dealing with security threats in schools, and the superintendent, who questioned the need for permanently stationed armed personnel inside schools. 

Corletta Vaughn, a board member, wondered whether people who at an October board meeting had supported a move away from armed police presence in the wake of George Floyd's police killing in May 2020 might now feel differently following the events in Oxford. 

"My concern is now that these incidents of school shootings are getting closer and closer to our district, do we not need to revisit the conversation that we had back in October?" asked Vaughn. "... I'm very concerned about the community that is feeling unsafe."

At-large board member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo said she believed the decision to phase out armed campus officers was happening at the wrong time following the Oxford shooting. 

"The security officers don't have handcuffs, mace or a weapon," said Gay-Dagnogo. "We don't have enough of actual police officers. So who's going to be at the (neighborhood) schools that you mentioned?" 

Vitti reiterated his view that armed officers not be permanently placed inside school buildings but roam between schools in the district except in some circumstances. 

"I think we need police officers hired and led by DPSCD," said Vitti. "But I don't believe that we should have individuals permanently placed at a school unless there's something going on at that school or we believe something will happen at that school."

halbarghouthi@detroitnews.com

@HaniBarghouthi