Multi-million-dollar plans to enhance security at Granite District schools were in motion long before shots were fired outside Taylorsville HighMar 09, 2023 11:07AM ● By Carl Fauver
Taylorsville Police Officers Andy O’Gwin and Matt Landolfi (L-R) are working in tandem at Taylorsville High School this year to help keep students safe. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
As of a month ago, the number of guns found at Granite District schools since last fall was 16. That’s nearly as many as there were through the entire 2021-22 school year (17), in about half the time. But until Jan. 26, there had not been any shots fired on a Granite District campus.
In fact, until those 9 mm shots were fired in the northeast parking lot at Taylorsville High School, 14-year veteran Granite District Chief of Staff Ben Horsley reports, there had never been an on-campus shooting involving students in his time with the district.
“Years ago, shots were fired outside the stadium at a Granger High football game,” he said. “However, that investigation determined none of those involved were our students. But the number of guns we are finding on campuses has grown significantly since COVID.”
As for the Taylorsville shooting, THS School Resource Officer Matt Landolfi reports only one handgun was involved, there were no injuries, the alleged shooter now faces several felony charges and the on-going investigation could lead to additional charges for up to five other students.
“All six of those involved are male and were current Taylorsville students in various grades.” Landolfi said. “The shooting occurred in our northeast parking lot near the seminary building. We have grainy footage from a surveillance camera showing the shots being fired. The gun has not been recovered; but we did find bullet casings at the scene. It appears the gunman was firing at someone rather than shooting warning shots into the air.”
Ironically, the Taylorsville High shooting occurred just days after the 2023 Utah State Legislative session opened. Horsley reports in that session Granite District is making a $12 million funding request to enhance security at the district’s eight high schools. At press time, the status of that request was still undetermined.
“One of the things the funding would support is the installation of weapons detection equipment at all of our high schools,” Horsley explained. “These are not metal detectors – but towers similar to what we walk through at some grocery stores. They stand about four feet tall and can identify the density, size and shape of objects that could be weapons. This allows students to move through more quickly than with metal detectors. But we recognize this equipment could still create choke points as students are arriving in the morning.”
If state funding is secured, Granite District officials say it would also pay for more school resource officers and mental health support for students in crisis.
Long before the Taylorsville High shooting, plans were already in motion to install the weapons detection equipment at Hunter High School as a pilot program. At press time, Horsley believed equipment testing would be underway this month, and the equipment would be operational by the end of March.
“I think (the weapons detection equipment) would help out here at Taylorsville,” Landolfi added. “But they would also have to enhance security at our other doors. We frequently have students let other students into the building (through a variety of secondary doors). There are not any alarms on them.”
Landolfi became Taylorsville High School’s second SRO at the start of the school year last August. This is the first school year THS has had two officers assigned to the school full time. His counterpart, SRO Andy O’Gwin, began at the school the previous October. As the school’s only SRO for the 2021-22 school year, he describes it as a “baptism by fire.”
“Although I had been a police officer more than 16 years, I had never been in a school setting before,” O’Gwin explained. “It was also the first year the school included ninth graders. Plus, it was the first year back after COVID. We had two new classes entering at once. We have a ton of great kids here. But there are always a few looking to make trouble. As the only resource officer here, I had to call in for back-up about every other week. Just having one class (of freshmen) entering the school this year – and with a second officer here – it has made a big difference.”
O’Gwin and Landolfi have similar backgrounds. Both worked for a time as corrections officers at the Utah State Prison. They also each worked for the Utah Division of Adult Probations & Parole. And they were each among the original Taylorsville Police Department hires as the agency began operations in July 2021.
“The 2021-22 school year was a huge challenge for us at the high school,” Taylorsville Police Chief Brady Cottam said. “With two completely new classes coming in together, I knew we needed a second officer. I didn’t want to burn (SRO O’Gwin) out. I am so grateful the city approved funding for our second school officer. It’s been much better this school year.”
Even more grateful to the city and its police department is fifth-year Taylorsville High School Principal Emme Liddell. She was actually out on leave when the shooting occurred outside her school. As she raced to the school parking lot after hearing about it, Liddell was never more pleased to have a pair of capable SROs on site.
“I am very happy with both of our officers,” Liddell said. “They work well as individuals and as a unit. Because of their personalities, I believe our students have found two police officers they can trust. The students know they are here to keep them safe. I am so grateful the city approved funding for our additional officer. Mayor Kristie Overson has been so great to work with. And Brady Cottam has also been amazing.”
As for the possibility of adding weapons detection equipment at THS entry doors, Liddell admits it would be a logistical challenge. Right now, students enter the school each morning through at least five unlocked doors. Additionally, with no alarms on the many other doors, students inside the school can open them to allow others in, undetected.
“I am familiar with the screening equipment going in at Hunter High,” she added. “If it’s going in there, it will likely go in here, at some point. We would have to change how students come and go. But the most important thing to me is our students be safe. If that means metal detectors – and a little slower entry into the school – we’ll make it work.”
Granite District Chief of Staff Horsley reports the move to a second high school SRO has also been common in recent years.
“Granger High has had two resource officers the longest,” Horsley reports. “Hunter High is now into its second school year with two officers. Cyprus, Kearns and Taylorsville High Schools each added a second SRO this school year.”
Horsley also reports the Granite School District operates its own 24-person police department, complete with a chief, sergeants, investigators, dispatchers and officers. One Granite District SRO is assigned full time at each district junior high, including Bennion and Eisenhower in Taylorsville.
Mayor Kristie Overson was among the Taylorsville officials who supported Cottam’s request for a second SRO at the high school during the city’s last round of budget talks. She’s glad they were both in place when the Jan. 26 parking lot shooting occurred.
“I was actually in a meeting with Chief Cottam when he first received the call about the shooting,” Overson said. “I saw him and the other officers in the meeting spring into action. I think it was handled very well. We are also grateful for the other agencies that responded. Having two officers at the school when it first happened made me more confident the response would go well.”