SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — School safety was top of mind for lawmakers during the Department of Public Safety’s presentation to the Joint Committee on Appropriations Friday morning.  

DPS Secretary Craig Price told lawmakers South Dakota’s Office of Homeland Security held 122 school security assessments through a program provided by the state. Those assessments have led to 110 local school safety projects to be funded. Last year, lawmakers approved the creation of a school safety resource center.  

Price said there are some schools in South Dakota that are more advanced than other schools because of funding. He said DPS officials share options that schools are doing well. 

“We make the broad presentation to superintendents and regional meetings,” Price told lawmakers. “The more that this program is becoming known across South Dakota, it’s just continuing to build momentum and more schools are taking advantage of it.” 

Republican Sen. Dean Wink asked Price about teachers having guns in school. Price said DPS doesn’t oversee the school sentinel program in South Dakota but the option is out there. The Attorney General’s office oversees the school sentinel program

“I’m OK with enhancing school safety and if you have people properly trained to be able to do that it makes it better,” Price said. 

DPS has trained more than 60 threat assessment teams in South Dakota and has launched the Safe2Say program for school safety tips in September. There’s been 48 tips and 133 follow-ups. 

School safety slide from South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

Price said school safety is heightened after a major shooting like the one in Uvalde, Texas. He said each school district decides whether to make any security-related changes and the school districts are responsible for funding implementation. 

“We give them a report on recommendations they could do to make their schools safer,” Price said, adding there are state or federal grants available. 

Brett Garland is the state’s school safety program director and Price said he knows the ins and outs of school safety both nationally and in South Dakota. 

“Sharing lessons learned and sharing good practices is something we believe in and do,” Price said. 

He gave lawmakers a few examples like removing pine trees from blocking a row of windows at a school building.  

“One of the recommendations would be, if you want to improve the physical security of the site, from your administrators who are sitting at their desk, you should remove these pine trees, so people can see out their window,” Price said. 

Price said many schools have upgraded front offices and how people have to check in before they are allowed into the school. 

Blizzard response 

Price highlighted how DPS works to reduce highway deaths and it works to identify the most dangerous stretches of highway in South Dakota. 

“We want our troopers out there. We want to be visible. We want to be working the highway so that folks see them and slow down,” Price said. “The strategies that we’re incorporating are working and it’s demonstrated through the data.” 

Price shared a chart you can see below that shows when there’s more miles traveled by vehicles, there’s more opportunity for crashes. 

Roadway deaths slide from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

“In my opinion, when we’re able to keep it level or even reduced against that trend, upwards of people traveling more, we’re being successful,” Price said. 

During the December blizzard, Price said there were DPS staff that worked 14 or 15 consecutive days. He said DPS data shows from Dec. 13 to Dec. 26, highway patrol helped 900 motorists alongside roads, there were 200 injury and non-injury crashes and highway patrol was able to rescue 33 people.  

“I would say it is probably a little bit under in what they actually did in rescuing people,” Price said. “There was multiple days where some of the work that law enforcement troopers, plow drivers, emergency managers all worked together, to go out and to get folks.” 

Price said people would take alternate routes following GPS after the GPS would tell drivers, many from out-of-state, the interstate is closed. He shared a few rescue stories involving a woman from Tennessee who got stuck on Highway 63, north of Hayes, after her GPS led her that direction. 

Price shared a story near Rosebud where a young couple was stuck and used OnStar in their vehicle to provide officials with latitude and longitude coordinates. After eight or nine hours, DOT officials were able to find the people who had run out of gas and their battery wasn’t working. 

“They were searching for them physically with their eyes, at the site of the latitude and longitude for over an hour before they saw a piece of the car,” Price said. “Snow drifted in. They got them out and took them to safety in Mission and housed them. Those are just highlighting the work that the public safety professionals in South Dakota are doing.” 

Price said there are tickets for drivers on the Interstate when it is closed. Price said there’s no physical way to close state highways and it’s hard for law enforcement to know if people were on state highways before the road was deemed closed or not. 

“When the interstate gets closed, it pushes people off on small, secondary roads and there’s only so much that you can do,” Price said. 

Price said there’s instances where safety officials arrive at people who are stranded but refuse to be rescued. 

“We make the best decisions that we can based on the scenarios that are in front of us,” Price said. 

DPS asking for $1.2 million for body cameras 

For more than 25 years, highway patrol vehicles have had patrol video and audio cameras. Price said body camera footage is becoming a bigger deal regarding public incidents involving law enforcement. 

DPS is asking for $1.2 million for a 5-year lease for body camera equipment. 

“They’re not a cheap investment,” Price said. 

Axon Enterprise would provide the body cameras, in-car cameras, data storage and electronic control devices. The body cameras are also part of Gov. Kristi Noem’s budget recommendation. 

Price said highway patrol troopers are increasingly helping local law enforcement in situations. 

“We’ve always kind of held off and haven’t made it a priority, because we’ve never really gotten pushed to the point where we had to make it a priority,” Price said. “We’ve gotten very positive feedback to the additional benefits that it adds for protection of not only the officer, but also the protection that it provides to the person that they’re dealing with