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TMCNet:  Local officials take precautions

[December 21, 2012]

Local officials take precautions

Dec 21, 2012 (Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Even before the Connecticut school shooting, local law enforcement agencies and school officials have trained for and developed strategies to combat violence against children here.

Bowling Green Police Department personnel train for school shooter scenarios, and day shift police officers are encouraged to get to know school staff as part of their duties, according to Officer Ronnie Ward, BGPD spokesman.

The Warren County Sheriff's Office provides school resource officers at each of the county high schools. Their offices are near school entrances.

"That's done by design," Chief Deputy Maj. Tommy Smith said. "We want people to know that they are there." The resource officers also park their sheriff's cruisers at the front of the schools, again signaling law enforcement presence. "If the law is broken, they are there," Smith said.

Shooter scenarios -- whether in schools, stores or other public buildings -- are part of deputies' in-service training, Smith said. A deputy is also assigned to check in at each Warren County elementary school to become familiar with school principals and other administrators.

Single-door access, buzzer systems, photo identification badges and video surveillance are just some of the precautions local school districts take to keep students safe, according to Joe Tinius, Bowling Green Independent School District superintendent, and Bart Darrell, staff attorney for the Warren County Public School District.

Visitors to all local schools log on to computers and are provided badges to wear while inside the schools. Volunteers at the schools undergo criminal background checks and are also provided IDs.

In the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting, Warren County's administrators walked the halls to keep an eye on things, Darrell said.

And Warren County schools, which were in session through Wednesday before going on winter break, did not experience an unusual number of calls this week.

Few details of the shooting had been released by the time city schools left for break -- Tinius said that held calls to a minimum.

Threats taken seriously The circumstances of last week's school shooting in Connecticut -- especially the way the shooter gained entry to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown by shooting out glass -- serve as a grim reminder of the need for school safety plans and necessity to take all threats seriously.

"You can't ignore any of it," Tinius said.

Ward agreed.

"Any calls we get, we have to treat them as serious," Ward said.

A city police detective is investigating the case of a rumor of possible violence at Bowling Green High School that was fueled by posts on social media, Ward said.

That rumor came on the heels of an earlier perceived threat scrawled on a bathroom wall Nov. 27 at Warren East High School. Subsequent social media posts about the message on the bathroom wall inferred possible violence at the school just prior to dismissal time Nov. 28. Five-hundred of the school's 900 students stayed home that day, and the Warren County Sheriff's Office was flooded with calls from concerned parents.

During winter break, city school officials are rechecking security systems, and there will be meetings with principals to re-emphasize the district's safety policies.

"We want to make sure the locks are working properly on the doors," Tinius said, noting that other issues will be evaluated as well.

Ward said city police have schematics of all the school buildings, which also are available on officers' in-car computers.

The Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond and the Bowling Green police hold classes to train officers on school shooting scenarios, Ward said. Nearly all Bowling Green police personnel have been through the class by their third year on the force, he said.

City police also have school resource officers and may park a patrol car in front of schools to increase visibility, Ward said.

Recently officers walked through each of the schools, talking to personnel.

"We talk about safety issues in the schools," Ward said. "Our goal is in prevention. We prepare for it mentally and physically." School safety funding cut John Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety in Richmond, said his agency has been hit with a 58 percent budget cut over the past five years, but he's grateful that the Kentucky General Assembly has funded the program $830,930 annually.

"The General Assembly has kept us alive and well; we've just had to do what other areas of state government have done," Akers said.

The cuts have had an impact on the school safety assessment program in Kentucky, but money is being used in many ways to keep Kentucky schoolchildren safe.

"We're (Kentucky) better prepared today than we have ever been," Akers said.

He said that stopping the horrific events like what happened in Connecticut is difficult.

"If a person has enough firepower, they can do what they want," he said.

Questions continue Children who have questions about their safety at school and what happened in Connecticut need to have answers, according to Shanna Paul, a city school psychologist.

"Keep the explanation developmentally appropriate," Paul said. "Be a good listener." It doesn't hurt to unplug the television and play some board games with children when the media coverage is at its peak, she said.

"It depends on your child. Try to maintain a normal routine. Give lots of hugs," Paul said.

Children take their emotional cues from significant adults, she said, so adults should try to remain calm.

"Reassure children that they are safe in the community and that shootings are rare events," Paul said.

Even parents have questions.

"We have folks upset with us that we don't publish our emergency procedures manual," Tinius said, noting the school security procedures, especially specifics, aren't for public consumption.

Still, parents are interested in what schools are doing to protect their kids.

"Parents and grandparents need to get together to make sure our children are protected like the gold in Fort Knox," said Robin Anderson, a Bowling Green grandmother who has grandchildren in both the city and county school districts.

"We need to know what the city and county schools are doing to increase security," Anderson said. "We've got to do something to fight fire with fire. The prayers for the children (in Connecticut) are good, but a prayer is not going to stop a bullet. Steel and bulletproof glass is going to stop a bullet." ___ (c)2012 the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) Visit the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) at www.bgdailynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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