Kalamazoo mass shooting leads to proposed warning system

Laurie Smith, Emily Smith, Rich Smith ,Tyler Smith, Kalamazoo shooting rampage
Laurie Smith, wife and mother of Kalamazoo shooting victims Richard and Tyler Smith, along with daughter Emily testify on public threat alert legislation in Lansing. (April 12, 2016)

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Less than two months after her husband and son were killed in the Kalamazoo shooting rampage, Laurie Smith and her daughter testified for legislation meant to warn people about public threats.

“We’re confident that if this would have been in place on the night of Feb. 20th, that my husband and son and my daughter’s daddy and brother would still be here today,” Smith told the state House Committee on Communications & Technology on Tuesday.

Jason Dalton is accused of gunning down her husband, Rich Smith and their son, Tyler, on that night, before continuing his nearly five-hour shooting spree. When it was done, six were dead and two were injured.

The so-called public threat alert system would work like this: When there’s a threat, local police would notify state police, which would determine whether to issue an alert to TV and radio stations and cell phones.

State police say it could limit the alerts to a single city or region.

Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Kalamazoo, introduced the legislation in response to the rampage, working with state Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo. Hoadley said he expects the committee will send it to the full House next week. He hopes it will become law by June.

>>Watch the entire hearing below or app users can click here.

A similar bill in the Senate, proposed before the shooting, would have limited the alerts to active shooters, but the new legislation would cover ongoing public threats.

Lawmakers say it would be similar to the Amber Alert system.

“Like the Amber Alert system, Rich and Tyler would have been notified on their phones, which you cannot ignore a notification like that,” Laurie Smith testified.

“My dad was one of the people that definitely would have reacted to it,” her daughter, Emily Smith, testified. “He made me stay inside if the wind was blowing too hard.”

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting called it a “good next step.”

“It will help to protect people if it happens, when it happens again, if it happens again in another community,” he testified.

The tough part is defining a public threat. A legislative analysis of the bill defines it as a “clear, present, persistent, ongoing and random threat to public safety.”

That would include terrorism and unresolved mass shootings or shooting sprees. The law also would make it a felony to report a false public threat.

The question, however, is whether the alert system would have saved any lives that night in Kalamazoo.

It’s not clear if Dalton’s earlier crimes — a single shooting and erratic driving — would have actually led to a warning that would have reached his later victims, including Rich and Tyler Smith.

“I don’t know that we can look at it now and know for sure what it would have or what it wouldn’t have done,” said Getting, the prosecutor. “I think it’s important for us to be looking forward.”

Laurie Smith and her daughter say they will keep pushing for the legislation.

“This is the only thing that we could do to help, and the only way that we can honor them,” Emily Smith said after the hearing.

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