Glen Cove's mayor, police chief and superintendent of schools were among a group of city leaders who met recently to exchange ideas of how to address school security.
The discussion encompassed "where we've been, where we're going and how we're going to get there," said Mayor Ralph Suozzi after the meeting. "This is not just a school issue. I think it's a community issue."
Prevention, deterrants and emergency preparation were covered, Suozzi said. The specialist who the City used to set up its surveillance cameras is looking at the possibility of linking school security cameras to the City's system.
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The Glen Cove Police Department has carried out training exercises on school grounds in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, and Suozzi said he assured Superintendent Joseph Laria that "every City resource that would be helpful to [the district] would be made available to them."
Retired Glen Cove Police Sgt. Jack McDougal was hired per diem as a security consultant for the district. McDougal is well-known to community leaders and also serves on the board of the Glen Cove Boys & Girls Club.
Chief of Police William Whitton said the department has been drilling with the schools for the past six years.
"I think we're ahead of the curve in a lot of ways," he said.
Whitton said the district was receptive to his recommendation that lockdown drills be done with the same frequency as fire drills. State law requires 12 fire drills per year.
"It's like muscle memory. The more you do it, the more you know what to do," he said.
Whitton pointed out that Sandy Hook Elementary had completed a major security review prior to the shooting, so staff reacted quickly when the situation erupted. The school's principal and psychologist created noise by attacking the gunman and alerted others to the danger, though they lost their lives for it.
The concept of "target hardening," or making buildings less accessible to potential attackers, was discussed at the meeting, Whitton said. He noted that at Sandy Hook, the gunman shot through the glass of a locked door to gain entry. Whitton said a variety of scenarios should be considered and prepared for.
"Don't forget that we're learning too as we look at these events," he said.
Whitton said he supports the idea of armed guards in schools. As a father of three, he said, he would feel better knowing such a protection was in place for his own children. He said the idea was discussed at the meeting, and Laria said a key point is that the person would have to be "carefully selected."
One advantage Glen Cove has is its police department's proximity to the schools and other potential targets. If a call were received of some violent incident at any of the schools, "police would be there in two to three minutes, me included," Whitton said.
Another important aspect is identifying people who may be at risk of expressing themselves so violently.
"All school shooters had been bullied and made to feel like outsiders," said Whitton, who is a member of an anti-crime organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. He said that part of preventing these tragedies is helping young people to "feel more mainstream, instead of feeling ignored and isolated."
The City's approach is beginning with open communication between leaders and agencies. The mayor said he keeps in close contact with Laria, with communications regularly falling outside normal business hours.
He said City government is taking proactive steps and has reached out to local private schools as well.
"There's a lot of discussion going on," Suozzi said.