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Take Five: Meet Sgt. Rachel Puckett of the OCSD’s School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team

By AMY SENK

Earlier this year, shortly after the Uvalde, Texas school shooting where 19 students and two teachers were fatally shot, and 17 others were wounded, I attended a Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce event featuring Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes as the guest speaker. It was a fascinating program, but with Uvalde on our minds, I was especially intrigued by his description of his department’s School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team, or SMART, which works with school officials, the District Attorney’s office and other agencies to prevent threats of violence in our schools. That program, he said, has prevented incidents that could have proved tragic – “Columbine-type plans,” he said. I decided to reach out to SMART’s Sgt. Rachel Puckett to find out more. 

Take Five Sgt. Rachel Puckett

Courtesy of OCSD 

Sgt. Rachel Puckett, OCSD

Q: When and why was the School Mobile Assessment Resource Team formed and can you tell me more about it? 

A: The School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team (SMART) was created in July 2001 to serve South Orange County within the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Jurisdiction. SMART was created to respond to incidents related to violence, threats of violence, possession and/or use of weapons, unstable behaviors, suicidal actions, or tendencies that pose a threat to others at K-12 schools. In July 2020, SMART expanded its area of service and now includes the Anaheim Police Department, the Garden Grove Police Department and the Irvine Police Department. The team works in close collaboration with the Orange County Department of Education, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Orange County Probation and the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Q: Who are the team members and generally what are their backgrounds?

A: The Team is comprised of two Orange County Sheriff’s Department sergeants – a sergeant that supervises the South Team and a sergeant that supervises the North Team. South SMART has an OCSD Investigator, two OCSD Deputies and an Irvine Police Department Detective. North SMART has an OCSD Deputy, an Anaheim Police Department Detective and a Garden Grove Police Department Detective. The Team members were all selected because of their exceptional skills and experience in working with children. All members have worked previously as School Resource Officers. Additionally, they are all highly trained in Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG), investigative techniques, crisis intervention and current trends that affect our children. SMART also has a full-time, dedicated mental health clinician assigned to assist children and families when responding to calls for service. As a result of SMART threat assessments, students and families have been able to receive additional resources through the Orange County Health Care Agency. Having a dedicated clinician on SMART gives us another avenue at helping students in crisis or any other mental health issues. 

Q: How many reports do they typically get in a school year and are reports from teachers or administrators, other community members, family? 

A: In 2021, SMART responded to approximately 180 calls for service. It should be noted however, that the majority of schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our call volume was greatly impacted, as children were mainly at home and participated in online learning. So far in 2022, we have responded to approximately 165 calls for service. SMART is on track to double our calls for service this year, as compared to last year. SMART receives reports of suspicious behaviors, weapons on campus, threats of violence, suicidal ideations, etc., from a multitude of methods and reporting parties. These reports can come from school site personnel on campus, parents or family members, concerned students, community members, just to name a few. We encourage anyone to report suspicious and concerning behaviors to your local law enforcement agency. SMART relies and thrives on collaboration with parents, school employees, the community, students and our stakeholders. We deeply appreciate our partnerships and truly believe that we are stronger when we all work together to keep our children safe. 

Q: Sheriff Barnes told a CdM group recently that the team has actually prevented tragedies. Can you tell me more, generally, about any of those examples?

A: The main goal of SMART is prevention and that can’t always be quantified, but SMART has most certainly prevented tragedies from occurring. SMART has routinely intervened and provided resources to children that are suicidal or who have expressed violent ideations or threats towards others. From threats spoken to other students or school shooting threats made on social media, each incident is investigated. While it would be impossible to say what would have happened or the magnitude of devastation had these threats not been addressed, each situation must be examined and thoroughly assessed to ensure everyone’s safety.

Q: Are there any behaviors or actions that parents, friends, teachers should immediately report, and what should parents say to their kids who are afraid of a school shooting?

A: Please remember to always call 911 or your local emergency number if you or anyone else is in immediate danger or if there is an emergency. Suspicious activity is any observed behavior or statement that could indicate a desire or plan to harm another person. Some of these activities may be innocent or lawful, but it is law enforcement’s responsibility to determine if the behaviors or actions warrant further assessment, investigation, or intervention. When reporting suspicious activity or behaviors to law enforcement, it’s important to describe specifically what you have observed, to include: who or what you saw, when you saw it, where it occurred and why it is suspicious. Families absolutely play a critical role in reaffirming a sense of security for children who are afraid of a school shooting. It’s important to reaffirm safety and emphasize that schools are still very safe. Let your children talk about what they are feeling and support their expressed feelings. Help your child put those feelings into perspective, while keeping explanations developmentally appropriate for your child. It’s also very important to limit a child’s exposure to graphic images, social media, etc. For additional guidance and resources, visit the National Association of School Psychologists at www.nasponline.org/children-and-violence.   

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Amy Senk is a long-time resident of Corona del Mar and a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.