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Park City sergeant on school shootings: 'We need to be even more prepared'

PARK CITY – Corey Allinson is one of the good guys. He doesn’t want to go negative. He doesn’t want to see the glass half empty.

But he’s also a realist. As a sergeant in the Park City Police Department, he looks around at the town’s schools and concert venues and convention centers and businesses and says, “Hopefully it will never happen, but we have to be of the mindset that it’s coming and we will be on our game when it does.”

“It” is a mass shooting.

“If you haven’t already put your mind in that state, if you haven’t determined that it’s not a matter of if but when, I don’t know how you go in that building or that arena,” he says. “Because the body won’t go where the mind hasn’t already gone.”

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The irony that if he’d said such things just 20 years ago, he’d have been called a doomsdayer or a fanatic or something worse is not lost on Sgt. Allinson. He graduated from Layton High School in 1998. He has a vague recollection that a school resource officer came around the school his senior year, but couldn’t tell you his name or if he was full time.

He knows he didn’t hear anyone talk about procedures or drills or lockdowns or lockouts.

“Never in my school experience did they ever do a lockdown or a lockout or any kind of discussion or drill that was related to an act of violence.”

It was the next year, 1999, when two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School near Denver. Ever since, the unheard of has become heard of.

Sgt. Allinson points to statistics that document the escalation of mass shootings in the 21st century, not just in schools but in businesses and other public places. According to the website, in 2014 there were 270 mass shootings in America – a mass shooting being defined as an incident where four or more people were killed or injured. In 2015 the number jumped to 333; in 2016, 383; in 2017, 346.

“We’re dealing in this country with almost one a day,” he says. “I think that breaks down those barriers to thinking that it won’t happen here.”

Statistics also show, he points out, that 29 percent of the mass shootings occur in schools. The remaining 71 percent are in other locations. Also, 98 percent involve a single attacker, 86 percent end violently, with the attacker killed or committing suicide, and the vast majority are over within five minutes or less.

Those are the facts, and the only conceivable silver lining they offer is as a wakeup call to be prepared – the most recent coming from the Parkland school shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed.

“My motor’s pretty ramped up all the time anyway,” says Sgt. Allinson, “but Parkland solidified for me that what we’re doing is appropriate and we need to be even more prepared. The next morning I did another gear check. Made sure I’m ready. If all of a sudden we got that call, do I have everything I need?”

He strongly urges everyone to do their own gear check. Not in a cop kind of way, with bulletproof vests and two-way radios and multiple weapons, but to think rationally about how to behave if, heaven forbid, the worst-case scenario should happen.

Schoolkids, he contends, should know they have options.

“What I teach my kids (he has four young children at home), is if they have the opportunity to get out, get away, that’s what they should do. If the violence will be over in less than five minutes and they have the opportunity to not be confronted or get away from that environment, I want them to go.

“If a child doesn’t understand they have the option to get out of a hallway, or go into the bathroom, or break a window, or throw things, it limits their ability to be proactive. You can't have just one standard plan.”

He reiterates: “The body can’t go where the mind hasn’t already gone. That applies to everyone.”

It’s not a fun message, the sergeant admits. He wishes he didn’t have to devote so much time and attention talking about the possibility of a mass shooting and asking people to be prepared. But times have certainly changed.

“The only drill I remember in high school was the fire drill,” he says.

And that was just 20 years ago.