Police in Vermont Face Backlash For Staging A Mock Shooting Before High School Students

The Burlington Police Department in Vermont faced backlash over a controversial surprise mock shooting it staged Wednesday before Burlington High School students.

The demonstration was held for the students in Burlington High School’s Year End Studies program, and it involved a role-playing scenario with police personnel, the police department said in a statement Thursday.

“The … scenario only involved three department personnel simulating a robbery scenario and was not directed at any students or faculty,” the department said, adding later that fake firearms were used in the demonstration at the police station.

According to a newspaper in Vermont, Seven Days, the scenario was supposed to demonstrate the “unreliability of witness statements.”

The presentation had been cleared by the district’s Year End Studies (YES) program staff in late May, who reportedly agreed to notify parents and students about it in advance, the department said. But students were given no warning and dove for cover, Seven Days reported. Students and parents were reportedly shocked and outraged.

“We take our responsibility to keep students safe very seriously, and we are deeply sorry that this event occurred,” school officials said, according to WPTZ-TV in Burlington. “We understand the impact this incident may have had on the mental health and well-being of students, and we let parents and students know that staff in both our counseling and mental health support offices will be able to provide support tomorrow if needed.”

The department also issued an apology on Thursday, noting that there was a social media post circulating about how upset students felt after the class.

“The Burlington Police Department apologizes to any students in attendance who were upset by the specific scenario and crime scene portion of the presentation,” the statement said.

HuffPost reached out to Burlington Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak and the Burlington School District’s superintendent for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

According to the police department, the school district’s YES program staff had reached out to police officials in April about conducting a presentation following a “successful” demonstration the department had done for another program within the school district last fall.

The police department and YES program staff had reportedly talked about details of the session beforehand, with the police department saying it would be “about as real life as you can get.” It had asked whether the staff thought students would be comfortable with it, and they reportedly confirmed that students would be OK.

Even though the department said the scenario was not set up as a crime directed at students, experts have emphasized how traumatic such situations, including active-shooting drills at schools, can be for students.

A majority of states in the U.S. require schools to do active-shooting drills to prepare students and faculty for such an incident, especially as violence has shaken schools and communities across the country in recent years, PBS reported. But a recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety shows that active-shooting drills can have an alarming effect on mental health.

The results of the study, which analyzed millions of social media messages and more than 1,000 Reddit posts related to 114 schools in 33 states, indicated a 42% increase in anxiety and stress and a 39% increase in depression displayed in the posts after active-shooter drills compared with before the drills.

The data also showed that this trend continued for at least 90 days after the drills regardless of the school setting or the tactics used.

The police department will be meeting with the district’s students and staff on Friday to discuss the presentation and the effect it had.

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

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