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McCaleb: Cary-Grove drill raises many questions

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I’m not one to waffle on an issue.

If I have an opinion, I’ll express it. Sometimes with dire consequences.

Just ask my wife.

But I’m having trouble forming a firm position on last week’s events at Cary-Grove High School.

In response to the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school officials teamed with the Cary Police Department to simulate an actual school shooting, firing blanks from two starter pistols during the school day as part of a preparedness drill.

Did the school go too far? Or was it simply being proactive in an era when mass shootings have become all too common?

Fair questions, both of them.

My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “Really?”

Do we really need to simulate the sound of a gunshot inside a school to prepare students for a potential attack along the lines of Sandy Hook? What good could it possibly do?

Many throughout McHenry County shared my initial reaction. But many others supported the drill.

On the digital version of our stories at NWHerald.com and on the Northwest Herald’s Facebook page (facebook.com/nwherald), readers provided a wide range of opinions.

“It’s a modern-day safety drill, no different than a tornado drill,” one Cary-Grove High School mother said. “I am glad my son’s school is preparing for all sorts of tragedy.”

And from another supporter:

“I have two children at this school. Neither were traumatized. They do not get what the fuss is – just another drill. I’m thankful they are addressing this and at least giving some idea as to what might happen.”

Among the criticisms:

“Not thrilled at all about the sounds of gunshots in a high school. Will the kids now hear gunfire and think, ‘Is this a drill?’ ”

And:

“This is extremely misguided. I am all for private gun ownership, but adding more government security to make us feel safer is a slippery slope.”

So which is it? Either Cary school and police officials were being proactive in preparing students and faculty for an attack or, conversely, this is a major overreaction that can do more harm than good.

After listening to and reading many points of view, and considering it in more depth, I’m sorry to say that I don’t stand firmly on either side.

Do I think using starter pistols to simulate the sound of real gunfire is going to better prepare students in the event of a real situation? Probably not. But is it doing any harm, either? No, of course not.

It’s too bad we’ve come to a point where schools even have to consider such a drill. But I understand that they do.

Perhaps there is one identifiable benefit of this – a conversation is being had about what our schools and communities should be doing, just in case.

• • • 

Discouraged but determined: I and other members of the Northwest Herald staff attended a meeting Friday about the possibility of bringing a pilot Illinois program to McHenry County that would allow still and video cameras to cover certain court proceedings.

The pilot program debuted in January 2012, when Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride of the state Supreme Court said it was time to open up our courtrooms to greater media – and, therefore, public – access. To date, 25 Illinois counties are participating in the program. Everything I’ve heard, including from the chief justice himself, is that it’s been a huge success.

That didn’t stop the naysayers Friday. One by one, those involved in the judicial system stood up and stated their reasons why they think it’s a bad idea.

Witnesses could be influenced.

Juries could be tainted.

Court officials’ lives could be at risk.

The dignity of the proceedings could be compromised.

You name it, there was an excuse for not allowing cameras in local courtrooms.

Although I respectfully acknowledge many of the concerns (though certainly not all – the dignity of the proceedings could be compromised? Really?), cameras in courtrooms are not a novel concept, as retired Judge Joseph Condon stated it was. They’ve been in courtrooms across the country for decades.

And if any of the concerns aired Friday were realities in jurisdictions that allow cameras in courts, we’d be having a national conversation about whether we should be removing cameras from courtrooms.

That’s not happening.

Taxpayers pay for most of what goes on in the courtroom. They pay the salaries of the judges, the prosecutors, the court reporter and clerks, the bailiffs, the public defenders. They pay for their pensions.

They paid for the building. They pay to heat it in the winter. They pay to cool it in the summer. They pay to maintain it year-round.

What’s my point?

Taxpayers deserve better access. They deserve to have a better understanding of how the system works. They deserve to see for themselves whether the court system works properly, and whether those in the court system are doing their jobs professionally.

Yes, the courts are open now, as some noted during Friday’s meeting. Anyone from the public can walk in and watch the proceedings for themselves.

On Monday through Friday from about 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m.

Guess what?

That’s when most taxpayers – you know, the ones who pay for the court system – are working.

Frustrations aside, I look forward to continuing the conversation with the stakeholders in this.

Given the huge successes in the 25 pilot programs, and based on everything we’re hearing from the state Supreme Court, cameras are coming to all Illinois courtrooms at some point.

It’s just a matter of when, not if.

I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to work through all of the concerns and open up our courtrooms to better access, so taxpayers can see for themselves what they’re paying for.

• • • 

Great event: Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees honored Friday night at the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Dinner.

The food was great, and the company was even better.

Denise Benages of H.R. Midwest was named Chamber volunteer of the year. All Star Taxi and Transport was named new business of the year. And Jersey Mike’s was named business of the year for all it does for the Chamber.

Congratulations again. I can’t wait until next year.

• Dan McCaleb is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications and editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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