Nashville, Tenn. (WKRN) – Heartbreak — that was the first thought for Tennessee Homeland Security Director Greg Mays when he learned of the 21 people shot to death at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
“It’s impossible to make sense, really, of why someone would want to attack children in a school,” mays said. “I have children in school in Williamson County and I think about them so it’s heartbreaking, to say the least.”
While it’s impossible to make sense of the shooting, he said his 25-year career with the Secret Service was spent constantly investigating threats and taught him there’s usually a pathway to violence and indicators of what might happen. That’s why it’s important for people to speak up if they sense a potential threat.
“If we can approach that potential school shooter and offer him what’s become known as an off-ramp on that pathway to violence, many times they’ll take it. sometimes it’s just counseling, sometimes it’s mental health treatment, sometimes they need to go to jail, sometimes it’s removing them from an environment that’s creating a sense of desperation and a sense of hopelessness,” mays said. “It’s complicated and I certainly don’t want to make it sound like it’s simple, it’s difficult work but at the same time it has to be done.”
That’s why promoting the Safe TN app was included in Governor Bill Lee’s executive order. The app launched back in 2019 and Director Mays said they put a lot of money into upgrading it last year. It’s primarily designed for schools but anyone can use it to anonymously report suspicious or concerning activity, bullying, or find resources for help like mental health services.
Each report is sent to Homeland Security where it’s immediately assigned to law enforcement, oftentimes local, agencies to be investigated.
“I’ve been asked before what threats concern you the most and it’s the ones I don’t know about so things like Safe TN help me know about the threat and then we can act on them,” Mays said.
Governor Lee’s executive order instructs the Department of Commerce and Insurance to evaluate and assess law enforcement training standards and recommend expansions, improvements, or enhancements to existing training for active-shooter scenarios. They’re to provide a report to the governor by July first with recommendations to expand its availability to local law enforcement agencies and related education stakeholders.
“[The order] really put more of a finer point on what he wants the state to do, much of it Tennessee homeland security is already doing but we’re going to be increasing that a little bit,” Mays said, adding that they’ll be making sure that the rules already in place are being enforced.
Another key in his eyes is the relationship between law enforcement and the schools they’re protecting.
“If officer so and so shows up at the school during the course of his regular day just to check on things – that’s a good thing. And we check those back doors and we check the side doors and we check to see if anything is going on, that’s part of it,” Mays said. “The school resource officer part is important also and having the school administration feel like the police are there to help and are nearby is an important part in law enforcement’s role.”
In a growing city like Nashville Director Mays said their big focus is protecting everyone whether its in school or elsewhere.
“Whether it’s soft targets, hardened targets, political targets, domestic violent extremism, there are a wide variety of motivations for why someone may pick Nashville as a target,” Mays said. “But we work really well with our federal, state, and local partners, and we feel like we have a great system in place here in the city to monitor those threats and investigate any credible threats that come along.”