Police presence to increase at city schools

Move comes after deadly shooting at Florida high school

By RON HARRIS, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 2/18/18

Students in the Jasper City School System may soon notice an increased presence of police officers during the day.

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Police presence to increase at city schools

Move comes after deadly shooting at Florida high school

Posted

Students in the Jasper City School System may soon notice an increased presence of police officers during the day.

The move comes in response to this week’s shooting at a south Florida high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead.

A 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., entered the school Wednesday armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and randomly killed 17 people. It was one of the most deadly school shootings on record.

Dr. Ann Jackson, superintendent of Jasper City Schools, met with Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe and Mayor David O’Mary Thursday to discuss ways to further improve the safety of students attending city schools.

The first step is to increase patrols at city schools by Jasper police officers, Poe said.

“Our officers try to go in and out of the schools as often as they can,” Poe said, “but they have other calls they have to answer. Now, we’ve made this a priority.”

Poe, who has grandchildren in the city school system, said Thursday’s meeting was an important first step in improving safety at city schools.

“In light of the school shooting in Florida, we met to discuss what could be done here to prevent that from happening here,” Poe said. “What we’re doing now is to prevent it from happening here, but if it ever does, we want to do what we can to reduce the number of injuries and casualties.”

Poe said Jasper police have been trained to deal with such situations.

“We’ve had a lot of training in the schools with our school resource officers, as well as with our tactical unit and patrol officers,” he said. “They train all the time.”

Poe said in addition to increasing officers’ presence in schools, other measures will be taken, too. “We’re going to increase other means of our presence in different ways and methods,” he said.

Poe said one of the biggest keys to avoiding a similar situation is to “identify red flags in people’s behavior or their social media, and most importantly, to bring it to someone’s attention.”

“It’s so important that students and faculty members and others in the community keep their eyes and ears open for troubled kids or adults who may have issues with a school system or anyone in authority, and to bring it to someone’s attention,” Poe said. “It’s a shame that we have to do this, but in today’s world you have to increase security and think outside the box in means of stopping these type things from happening.”

Assistant Police Chief Paul Tucker said Jasper police will investigate any instances where someone feels there is a threat present at a school.

“You hear all the time the saying ‘If you hear something, say something,’ and we want people to keep that in mind,” Tucker said. “We will investigate anything that’s brought to our attention. It’s important that if you see or hear something suspicious, please go ahead and let us know.”

Poe said the increased presence of police at city schools shouldn’t alarm students or their families.

“It’s simply a safety measure,” he said. “In this day and time, we have to take measures to ensure the safety of our kids the best we can.”

Jackson said school leaders appreciate the support the school system receives from local law enforcement, as well as the city of Jasper.

“We appreciate the support we have from the police department and the mayor, and certainly safety is something that’s on our mind daily,” Jackson said. “We constantly work on safety, and we want our parents and students and teachers to know that the police presence may look a little different. It may be from plainclothed officers to full tactical officers, and the presence will be enhanced.”

Both Jackson and Poe know that there will be some who oppose the increased police presence in city schools. That’s OK, they say.

“If it saves lives, that’s OK. If it helps to make our schools more safe and more secure, that’s OK,” Jackson said.

“We had rather err on the side of safety than public opinion,” Poe said. “And that’s what we’re going to do. We have to be able to deal with any threat that is presented.”

Faculty members at city schools are given quarterly training sessions to learn how to deal with adverse situations at school. “We do that with our tactical team,” Poe said. “It’s a pretty elaborate training, and it’s one of the best around.”

“I think most parents feel that safety is the No. 1 concern — above education and above everything else,” said Rita Pilling, director of Accountability Programs and Support Services for city schools. “We have drills and other preventative type measures for kids in place.”

O’Mary said he’s pleased that officials from the school system, police department and city are working together to keep students safe. “I’m so happy that we’re speaking with a unified voice, and there’s a unified effort,” he said.

“This is our school system and our children and it’s our responsibility to protect them,” he added. “Our No. 1 goal is violence prevention, and we are intensifying our efforts to do that. ... We’re going to be very rigid in what we’re doing. This is not something to be timid about, and I want every student who comes to our schools to be able to go about what they do every day and not have to look over their shoulder and be afraid.”

O’Mary said the city will do what is necessary to keep students in city schools safe. “I hope the message we’re trying to convey is that we’re serious about protecting our children,” he said.

“If you elect to bring violence to our schools, then you can expect to be met with harsh resistance,” O’Mary added. “I strongly believe when a person has an opportunity to reflect on their own mortality, more times than not sanity prevails.”