Burlington Police Terrified High School Students With Mock Shooting | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Burlington Police Terrified High School Students With Mock Shooting

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Published June 6, 2024 at 12:38 p.m.

Burlington Police Department - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington Police Department
Updated at 5:20 p.m.

While teaching a class to high school students on Wednesday, Burlington police officers staged a surprise demonstration in which a masked gunman burst into the room and pretended to open fire.

The simulation, which occurred at the Burlington police station, was meant to show the unreliability of witness statements. But the lack of warning — and the loud gunshot sounds — sent students diving for cover in fear for their lives.

In response, the Burlington School District apologized to parents and offered counseling services. The Burlington Police Department, meanwhile, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon apologizing to any students “who were upset by the specific scenario and crime scene portion of the presentation.”

“The roll-playing [sic] scenario only involved three department personnel simulating a robbery scenario and was not directed at any students or faculty,” the statement said.

Students and parents who spoke with Seven Days expressed shock and outrage, saying the demonstration played on the fears of students who have grown up amid a nationwide increase in violence at schools.

“I’m baffled,” said one mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity. “It is a very real threat to kids these days to have a school shooting. It’s something they worry about.”

The incident unfolded during a forensics class offered through Burlington High School’s annual year-end studies program. The roughly 20 students in attendance were told that they would tour the police department and see a presentation on how detectives solve crimes.

Two students who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the class was facing the front of the room listening to a detective speak when they heard screams from behind them. Two women ran in, the students said, followed by a man wearing a ski mask who was holding a gun. Then gunshot sounds rang out.

One of the students said she dove on the floor, scraping her knee. The other said she scrambled to find her phone so that she could text her mother.

“I’m shaking and crying because I'm like, Oh my god, I'm gonna get shot,” she said. “It felt so real.”

The students realized it was fake only after noticing that the cops in the room had done nothing to stop the pretend shooter, they said.

Burlington School District officials confirmed the demonstration occurred, saying in a statement to Seven Days on Thursday morning that teachers knew officers might demonstrate a “gunshot-related crime” but not that it would happen without warning.

In an email to parents on Wednesday afternoon obtained by Seven Days, teachers said officers told them that they'd previously used the lesson with college students and adults, and that they wanted the event to be “as realistic as possible.”

“The detectives did apologize after they realized that the reenactment did not translate well to high school students,” the teachers wrote.

In its statement, the Burlington Police Department said school staff approved the demonstration’s content ahead of time and agreed to let parents and students know. The simulation would involve “fake firearms in a mock shooting,” the department said it wrote to school staff on May 23. “Do you think that sort of incident would be ok for your group of students? It is about as real life as you can get, and is certainly exactly the sort of thing we deal with most frequently.”

“I think these students will be fine with this simulation,” school staff responded, according to the police statement. “We will give a heads up to parents and students.”

A district spokesperson would not say whether the school district took that step, and declined to comment further on Thursday afternoon. Neither of the students who spoke to Seven Days, nor their parents, were informed, they said.

Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad was away at a conference and was not available for an interview. He informed Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak’s office about the event late Wednesday, she said.
On Thursday, Mulvaney-Stanak expressed disappointment about the incident. She said she was concerned that the police department would conduct a mock shooting in front of high school students in the first place, let alone without warning them of it beforehand. She said she’s asked the department to "reflect on why [the demonstration] was problematic."

The incident comes two days after Mulvaney-Stanak reappointed Murad over objections from her fellow Progressives on the city council, who have criticized his leadership. Mulvaney-Stanak said on Thursday that she’s not rethinking her decision but that she plans to meet with department heads in July to “establish goals” for the next year, including how the city engages with the public.

“Clearly, this is going to be part of the mix,” she said.

The police statement said officers will meet with students on Friday to discuss the presentation and its impact.

“We hope that this can be a reflective growth opportunity for all parties,” the department wrote.

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