Dealing with Monett's high anxiety

Friday, March 22, 2013
Murray Bishoff News editor

Initially during the manhunt of March 13 in Monett the public had little idea about what was happening. In response, a number of businesses locked themselves down.

Bonnie Witt-Schulte, the dispatching supervisor for the Monett Police Department, said if businesses called asking for information, dispatchers passed along the basic advice about an armed fugitive being sought, the same detailed shared with the Monett R-1 School District. Dispatchers recommended following whatever policy a company has for such situations.

Witt-Schulte said many companies don't have a policy and probably should.

It appears the advice for businesses to lock their doors spread spontaneously by word of mouth.

From what we could hear listening to the police radio traffic, people on the street really became the eyes and ears of authorities. Tipsters called in a wide range of suspicious activity. It seems unlikely that the subject could have walked anywhere near Monett's business district without generating a flurry of identifying phone calls.

The danger remains that someone could surreptitiously sneak into a business and hold somebody hostage. A locked-doors alert helped reduce the threat, but that kind of situation could occur any day without warning.

"Nobody wants to go to jail," said Sheriff Mick Epperly. Chris Young apparently responded inappropriately when an arrest warrant was served. Officers had justification in responding to a threat to one of their colleagues.

Executing a lockdown on the schools brought a number of positive effects. Security strategies received a valuable test.

Maybe it's the times we're living in and the reality of all the other public shootings that TV brings into our living rooms. People achieved a high state of agitation during the manhunt, even if it was the most intense effort of its kind in memory.

The Times made an unprecedented effort to provide solid information as the manhunt progressed. We were pleased new technology offered ways to update the community while the police pursued leads. We could at least give residents some idea why officers with firearms in hand looked through parked cars in the middle of peaceful neighborhoods, following tips.

The Times will be there if and when another incident prompts a similar response.

Looking back, the situation leaves the dangling question about how to alert the public without raising undue alarm. We may be able to do better next time.