Feb. 9, 2013
For matters big and small
Officers a strong, not silent, presence in LSC halls
Officers a strong, not silent, presence in LSC halls
Lafayette police Officer Amanda William- son is more than aware of the national spotlight on school safety. But as she patrols the halls at Jefferson High School, it’s not guns or extreme violence she expects to see. In fact, the only tool on her belt she has used in a school is handcuffs.
Williamson is one of 19 officers who will become part-time employees of Lafayette School Corp. at the next school board meeting on Monday. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December, LSC is considering stationing off-duty police officers at all seven elementary schools.
The district already positions armed officers at Jefferson High School, Tecumseh Jr. High School and Sunnyside Middle School.
Assistant Superintendent John Layton would like to see an officer at the front door of every school building.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with the state legislature,” Layton said. “There is talk of grant money that would allow us to hire more security staff. If that comes through, we would certainly take advantage of it.”
LSC is reviewing its security policy. Layton declined to comment on specifics but said corporation officials are meeting with school administrators, fire departments and police departments to discuss steps that might be taken.
“Having a police officer in our school would be just another layer of safety for the building,” said Miami Elementary School Principal Matt Rhoda. “It would also strengthen the relationship between our students’ families and the police department.”
Amanda Marshall, the guardian of a kindergartener at Murdock Elementary, thinks the school is safe and doesn’t want to see armed police officers there.
Guns are just scary to kids,” Marshall said. “ We don’t need to make them feel uncomfortable at school.”
Andrea Boyer, who works at and sends her two sons to Sunnyside Middle School, said she would prefer different methods of security.
“I know that the procedures at Sunnyside are good,” Boyer said. “But I wish that they would get metal detectors. I’m worried about what could come into the schools.”
Police officers began protecting LSC parking lots in the mid-’80s. In 1995, they moved into buildings. Today, there are typically six police officers on duty, primarily at Jefferson, Tecumseh and Sunnyside. The officer at Sunnyside spends part of his day checking on the corporation’s alter- native schools.
Aside from officers, LSC policies help secure every building. Doors remain locked at all times. Visitors must be buzzed into the building by an office worker.
Every school has multiple security cameras. Jefferson has 250.
If there is a threat of gun violence, LSC policy is to instantly go into lockdown. Hallways are cleared, classroom doors are shut, windows are covered and students are moved into one section of the room. There are no color codes or cryptic warning signs; lockdown is the first and only option.
“We want people to know exactly what’s happening, even if they have never been in the school before,” said school resource officer Mike McIver, who leads the in- school officers.. “If you hear ‘lockdown,’ you’re not going to just stand there wondering what’s going on.”
Officer Perry Amos has been working at Jefferson High School since 1992. During those 21 years, he has removed guns from students four times.
One of those incidents occurred when a student brought a loaded handgun to school with the intention of killing his ex-girlfriend. The girl reported to the in-school officers that the student was trying to get her alone. The officers apprehended the armed student before any violence occurred.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” McIver said. “If it wasn’t for having police officers in the school, it would have been a homicide-suicide situation you would have seen on CNN.”
Despite the raging national debate on school safety following high-profile shootings, the current in-school officers spend most of their time on basic student punishment is- sues.
It’s not to say that drug use, fights and serious offenses don’t occur in LSC schools. In-school officers wear bulletproof vests and are armed with a gun, a Taser and pepper spray.
But lost cellphones, arguments between friends, dress code violations and skipped classes are much more commonplace offenses that officers like Williamson deal with.
She spends most of her day walking the halls, checking bathrooms and talking with students.
“I try to interact with the students as much as possible,” Williamson said. “It’s good for them to know we’re here to make them feel safe or talk about anything going on at home.”
In many ways, in-school officers have taken it upon themselves to deal with smaller punishment and safety issues so administrators don’t have to. They process disciplinary referrals, talk on the phone with concerned parents and have conferences with disobedient students.
“With the changes in how they have to process teacher evaluations, this year (the administration) was dumped with so much stuff to do. It cut their time to work with the kids in half,” said McIver.
As a full-time resource officer, McIver is trained and certified to counsel students and educate employees on safety issues.
“We don’t respond with a heavy hand,” McIver said. “We’re dealing with teenagers. We deal with circumstances as they come and try to lead the students in the right direction.”
If LSC decides to place officers at elementary schools, those officers would certainly deal with fewer disciplinary mat- ters. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be useful, Earhart Elementary Principal Greg Louk said.
“A police officer would be another adult in the building to look out for the kids. Another role model,” Louk said. “If the corporation thinks having uniformed officers in the building will help, then I welcome it.”