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Mayors, Police Chiefs Focus on Practical Advice on Keeping Students Safe

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
January 28, 2013

Task Force of Mayors and Police Chiefs Chair Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin opened the January 19 meeting by repeating a question asked by Newtown Superintendent of Schools Dr. Janet Robinson a few days earlier in a Congressional hearing: “How do we protect our children without building fortresses? That’s really what this is all about.” And so, the Task Force devoted the session to discussing ways that mayors, police chiefs and school officials working together can keep students safe.

COPS Office Director Bernard Melekian briefed the task force on the school resource officer program that his office has funded and the Administration’s plan, as part of the President’s plan to reduce gun violence, to expand COPS hiring grants in FY 2014 by $4 billion to fund 15,000 additional officers and to establish a new program that would add 1000 new school resource officers. School resource officers, Melekian said, are teachers and counselors as well as police officers and “should be woven into the fabric of the school.”

Every school should have an emergency management plan, David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education, told the Task Force. Such a plan, he said “…is the first step to securing our schools, addresses a wide range of events [natural, man-made] that can disrupt teaching and learning, and addresses events that occur both in and outside of the school and school day.” Esquith invited participants to visit the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center ( ) that provides information on school readiness and emergency management.

Canton (MA) Police Detective Chip Yeaton, a school resource officer who heads up his department’s SRO unit, discussed what it takes to be a school resource officer. He stressed the importance of training, that you cannot just pull officers off the streets, and the importance of funding, explaining that he “wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for a COPS grant” that his city received. In response to a question, Yeaton said that there should not be armed civilians in schools, but that they should be well trained police officers. Yeaton is President of the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association, which is a state chapter of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“We need to do a better job of sharing information regarding mental illness and get around the HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) privacy and security rules, so that we know about problem kids and get them treatment.” commented Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. He talked about the importance of being prepared to respond to events when they occur so that they can be minimized, stressing the need for training, including active shooter training, school site assessments, and called for conducting active shooter drills in schools. In Fresno, he said, there are cameras in every high school and middle school, but only in 20 percent of elementary schools, and every police cruiser has the floor plan for every school on its computer.