Additional security awaits students

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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Students returning to campus this week have found additional safety and security measures in place in virtually every school district.

Paradise schools introduced COPsync into their system’s computers in April. Over the summer, Boyd ISD also purchased the software.

Protect and Learn

PROTECT AND LEARN – Decatur High School Resource Officer (SRO) Richard Hale walks the hall during the first week of class. The district is trying to secure funding to increase the number of SROs at the district from two to four. SROs not only provide security for school, but they also engage students in crime prevention programs. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“What we’re talking about is an emergency alert system that lets a teacher send an emergency alert from a computer in their classroom directly to the patrol vehicles of the five closest law enforcement officers and to the local dispatch system,” said Ron Woessner, CEO of the company that created the software. “It also creates a chat room between the teacher and all the patrol officers where they can communicate with each other in real time.

“In the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, six minutes passed between the first 911 call and the time before the first officer was dispatched to the scene. And that’s not unusual. This alert system can save time because it’s straight to the patrol unit. In these situations, minutes, and even seconds, count.”

In Bridgeport, the school board approved the purchase of approximately 100 security cameras to place at strategic spots, such as entrances and exits, throughout campuses, to aid in student safety.

Alvord ISD added security cameras at their campuses as well, using funds from a recently-issued revenue bond program to finish out the systems at each school.

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office doubled its Student Resource Officers (SROs) from two to four and now has an officer assigned for Alvord, Chico, Paradise and Slidell ISDs.

“Our job is to ensure the safety and security at the schools,” said Paige Dobyns, the deputy who directs the program.

Decatur has two SROs, one each at the high school and middle school, but Superintendent Rod Townsend wants to add two more full-time SROs to cover the elementary schools.

Richard Hale is entering his second year as an SRO with Decatur High School.

“We’re here to prevent any disturbance and to keep the students safe,” Hale said. “Monitoring the exits and who’s coming and going is the most difficult part of this job. This is a large school with a lot of doors.”

But his job goes beyond policing the campus.

“I try to build a relationship with the students,” Hale said. “My personal goal is to be someone the kids can trust and confide in. I want to reach out to them and be a mentor.”

The positive relationship with students helped him track down those responsible for a string of bomb threats that popped up at the school last year.

The SROs also engage students with various programs covering the dangers of texting and driving, drinking and driving, sexting, drug use and other issues.

School marshals don’t make the grade

Texas is one of four states that have passed laws allowing districts to have trained school employees or volunteers serve as a type of armed guard, or school marshal.

Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and South Dakota took the action in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults last December.

In Texas, if a local school board approves, schools can select one anonymous staff member per 400 students to carry a gun on campus. The marshal can act if they identify an imminent threat.

Training for the program is slated to begin in 2014. So far, no district in Wise County has opted to take part in the program, and local school administrators and law enforcement have questioned the wisdom of arming school employees.

“I don’t think arming teachers is the right thing to do,” Townsend said. “We already have a 30- to 40-second response time. My opinion is that our teachers are in the business of education, not police work. We have SROs in place to handle police work.”

Arming teachers could also create serious liability issues.

“From a professional standpoint I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Hale said. “If we had a Columbine-style shooting here, the SRO is going to go straight to the situation. If there is a substitute teacher or someone else armed, all you see as an officer is a plain-clothed person with a gun. It complicates the situation. I think it would be too much of a liability for the teachers.”

Boyd Police Chief Greg Arrington, whose office operates from a building on school property, said arming teachers or other district employees would be more likely to hinder law enforcement than to help.

“When you enter a school and you hear shots, how will you know if the shots are coming from the suspect or a teacher?” Arrington said. “That’s just adding one more component for the officer to evaluate when they enter a school building.

“I’m not 100 percent opposed to a teacher being allowed to carry a concealed weapon in school,” he added. “It depends on how extensive their training is. It takes much more training than just learning how to use a weapon. There is psychological training and evaluation that needs to be done.

“There is a big difference between handling a weapon when you are walking up and down the street and using one in a school environment,” he said. “Ever since Columbine, law enforcement has been going through intense active-shooter training. I don’t know if teachers will be able to go through such training.”

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