Casper police officers will receive new devices over the next few weeks in order to improve their access to local school buildings.

Within roughly the next two to three weeks, all Casper police officers will be carrying fobs similar to the device on sets of newer car keys. The fobs will allow officers to open secure, electronically-operated school doors in the event of an emergency or in the event officers need to access a school building after-hours.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Detective John Hatcher gave the example of a school going into lockdown. In such a situation, police officers would not be able to get into the school building without a school employee leaving their secured office to open the doors for officers, potentially putting that employee at risk.

In an emergency, officers may find themselves stuck outside the school waiting to be let inside. All schools within the district have electronic locks on at least one door.

But with the fobs, nearby officers can respond rapidly, open any school door and immediately take appropriate action to protect students, teachers and staff.

In a situation involving an active shooter, shaving seconds or minutes off of officers' response time can save lives.

"As recently as yesterday, I needed access to a school to deal with a student who was not necessarily disruptive, but seemed to be impaired," said Sgt. Scott Jones. "I had to bang on the door and wait and wait and wait."

"And that's fine under that circumstance, because it certainly did not qualify as an emergency. It just reinforces the fact that had it been an emergency, I would have to wait to gain entry or facilitate entry by other means," Jones added.

"By having access to essentially an electronic key in order to get in the door in a case of an emergency, I would have been able to go right in. It just reinforces to me the positive effect this is going to have on our ability to intercede in emergency situations in the schools," Jones concluded.

It is not uncommon for police to receive an alarm from a school building in the middle of the night. Most of the time, an alarm doesn't indicate anything serious; any number of things can set them off.

When checking out such an alarm, officers can use their fobs to enter the school building and clear it quickly, rather than waiting for a janitor or other employee who had to get out of bed to come unlock the school.

"This would appear to be a very common-sense, prudent move to ensure that the officers have the immediate access that they need that, God forbid, something critical goes down in one of the schools and they need to get in there in an immediate and timely fashion," Casper Police Jim Wetzel told reporters Wednesday.

"When you have a critical incident kick off at, say, NCHS, and you have an officer off-duty driving by on CY, that officer with his radio on can immediately respond and get access from whatever north, south, east, west direction they need to to get in that school and address that issue," Wetzel continued.

Hatcher said it was an idea the department pitched to the Natrona County School District, and the two groups have worked together to implement the proposal.

Mike Jennings, the district's executive director of human resources, says the department is paying to put the plan into action at what he estimated to be a cost of $2,000-$3,000.

Jennings estimated the fobs will be ready in the next week or two, with Wetzel adding another one- to two-week timeframe for distributing the fobs to officers and implementing accountability procedures.

The fobs, Wetzel said, are among the department's most sensitive items. Just like firearms or critical communications equipment, the fobs will be closely inventoried and serialized.

"We will phase-in the issuance, if you will, as we make all those accountability procedures, put those into play, and then we'll get those fielded," Wetzel said.

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