Editorial: Police, school response was top-notch

LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS gather just north of Barlow Park Elementary School, visible behind them, as they prepare to approach a vehicle parked several hundred feet away. Ian Stepleton photo

To this day, 5-year-old Alexa Kuphal is completely unaware of the deadly drama that unfolded several hundred feet behind her elementary school’s playground.

Her blissful ignorance is a testament to the well-executed plans of school and law-enforcement officials when, at about 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 4, Ripon police learned that a troubled man might be driving around the city with a loaded gun in his truck.

What transpired in the next two hours bears mention as it reflects how well Ripon’s professionals operate in waters that are uncharted and potentially life threatening.

* * *

The phone call alerting Ripon Police officers of the individual provided them with what Chief Dave Lukoski described as “a worst-case scenario.”

Although four police were on duty, officers Randy Butters and Trevor Hanke were at a court hearing in Fond du Lac. That left the chief and Captain Bill Wallner, as well as dispatcher Carol Prellwitz, to deal with the situation.

Police called U.S. Cellular to identify the location of the man’s cell phone. After 20 to 25 minutes of filling out paperwork, they were able to “ping” the phone — identify the nearest cell tower to which it was transmitting signals. But all that gave them was the phone’s location within 300 feet to three to four miles away.

So they started searching for the man’s truck, beginning with downtown, in case a tavern was involved, and working their way out. Once they identified the vehicle, parked in Barlow Park, police called for reinforcements, asked city staff to barricade the park’s two entrances off Griswold Street and notified the Ripon School District of events transpiring outside the school where kindergartners through second graders attend.

“We always err on the side of safety and obviously the kids were our main concern,” Lukoski said.

* * *

Missy Kuphal called her folks, Ripon residents Butch and Carole Shady, to tell them she was running late with a client at her Creative Clips hair salon in Fairwater.

Her parents explained they’d heard on the police scanner that something was going on in the vicinity of Barlow Park Elementary School, where her daughter is a kindergartner.

Missy was alarmed but within 10 minutes got the first of two automated calls many other grateful parents received that afternoon from Ripon School District business manager Rick Ketter. The first explained that an incident occurring in the neighborhood had caused the school to be put on lock down, but that their children were in no danger and busses would be running late.

The school district also posted corresponding alerts on its Facebook page...

Inside the school, staff remained calm despite the uncertainty concerning the nature and duration of the situation to the north.

“The BPES staff responded as true professionals in such a smooth manner that students didn’t even realize there was a tragic situation outside their school,” school Superintendent Richard Zimman commented later. “A film crew should have been inside BPES to make a training film to be distributed to all schools in the nation on how to handle an emergency situation.”

* * *

Although Lukoski and Wallner were joined by a third Ripon officer, they waited for reinforcements from the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s department. The response was “remarkable,” the chief said, as five or six deputies were on the scene within a half hour. ...

* * *

Days following the incident, school district administrators met with Ripon police twice to review and revise procedures to improve communication between the district and parents.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Zimman said. “We hope we don’t ever have to use these improved procedures, but we’ll be even better prepared to serve the community if the occasion arises.”

* * *

Alexa Kuphal got off her bus and greeted her mother.

“It was a fun day, Mom,” she said. “The busses were running a little late, but it was a fun day.”

— Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the Feb. 19, 2011 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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