WATSONVILLE -- Random shootings are a threat to schools and businesses, Police Chief Manny Solano said Tuesday.
Solano, briefing the City Council on school safety in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, recalled the man who armed himself from a gun cabinet at the Big 5 on Main Street and fired several shots in the sporting goods store in June 2011. In 2001, he added, pipe bombs were planted in schools and other community centers to distract police during a robbery of a check-cashing outlet.
"It's not a matter of when," Solano said. "It's already happened here, though maybe not to the degree of other places."
But Solano said police and schools have plans in place to deal with such emergencies, and the department is developing a special team to deal with shooting incidents. He said he opposes the National Rifle Association's proposal to arm teachers or other school staff to head off potential shooters.
If civilians were armed, there's a risk a gun could fall into the wrong hands or a stray bullet from a poorly aimed shot could cause more casualties, he said.
"We go through hours and hours of repeated training," Solano said. "The solution is to have an officer there as much as possible."
Watsonville's compact geography means police can quickly respond in a crisis situation, he said. The city also stations an officer at Watsonville and Pajaro Valley high schools -- an arrangement paid for by the school
In addition, the department works with the school district and other law enforcement agencies to train to respond, Solano said. A countywide summit is planned for Jan. 29 to review plans.
Financial considerations are stalling the deployment of a 10-member special weapons team. The department anticipated a $100,000 Department of Homeland Security grant to pay to train and outfit the team, but was awarded only $60,000.
Solano said he will try to raise another $40,000 through community donations. But he urged the council, even in tough financial times, to make funding for training a priority.
Solano also stressed the need to support mental health services. Mental instability is a common theme in random shootings, he said.
The community needs to be vigilant and report concerns as well, Solano said. He also encouraged people to sign up for the city's Nixle system to receive text alerts about emergencies.
To register, text watspd for English alerts or watsespanol for Spanish alerts to 888777.
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS