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School district, law enforcement debrief on standoff

POULSBO — Communication was the name of the learning game during a two-hour, closed-door debriefing between the North Kitsap School District, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Poulsbo Police Wednesday.

The discussion revolved around a March 12 event during which Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies led a two-hour standoff in an attempt to arrest a Poulsbo resident suspected in the spree of North End burglaries.

Christopher Ryan Berg, 23, was believed to be inside one of the Peninsula Glen apartments, a complex which sits adjacent to North Kitsap High School and directly across Hostmark Street from Poulsbo Middle School.

Middle school officials kept students inside the building after classes were dismissed, but high school students were let out as usual. Some high school students were kept on buses and those walking home were directed to go around the middle school instead of taking Hostmark.

The armed standoff presence so close to the schools was an alarming one, and the handling of the situation has since been under scrutiny.

NKSD spokesperson Chris Case said the meeting was a “very good conversation” during which representatives from the involved agencies identified ways to learn from the situation and improve response and collaboration.

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer said the goal was to discuss the timeline of events as the day unfolded, learn, and ameliorate the responses of all three groups in the future.

“There’s always room for improvement, and that’s why we met today,” he said.

Boyer added though the situation was more pronounced in part because of its proximity to the schools. Responders expected to end the standoff before school was released, but timing didn’t allow it, and instead it created the “perfect storm.”

Undersheriff Dennis Bonnevile said one thing learned was terminology doesn’t always translate accurately between agencies. He said the term “containment” to law enforcement means responders have secured an area, while school officials took the term to mean the threat had passed.

Still, the safety of school kids and staff was of the highest priority for both as the incident continued to evolve.

“We felt we were being very safe and actually going over and above. The school was working to the same goal, to keep everyone as safe as possible,” he said. “I had great confidence that everything was done properly, and it was.”

He said the number of responders, which at the highest peak was between 15-20, was dually implemented to ensure student and school staff safety and to create an “overwhelming force,” commonly used to incite suspects to surrender.

Poulsbo Police Chief Dennis Swiney said the good news is this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, and the debriefing will allow all three agencies to learn, change and improve in emergency response. He said each mirrors one another in their No. 1 concern: safety.

Swiney has been with the Poulsbo Police for just four months, and said it was “refreshing” to see the cooperation and collaboration displayed as the situation unfolded.

Director of Student Support Service Greg Epperson said it’s not unusual to have communication mishaps as an event of this nature unfolds.

“It’s really not new to have communication be one of the challenges in emergency preparedness,” he said.

Cell phone calls and text messages are sure ways of quickly spreading rumors, and can often lead to false information getting to parents in an event of this nature. But he, too, reiterated the shared aim of all three agencies.

“Everyone’s got the same goal. It is about keeping people safe. Period,” he said.

Case said the incident “came at exactly the worst time it possibly could have,” although she wanted to clarify that no shots were fired. She said it is likely the school district, police department and sheriff’s office could run a drill sometime in the future. She also added the schools will soon be implementing a calling system capable of contacting parents via phone with recorded updates of immediate information.

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