Unspeakable tragedy has descended upon Newtown, Conn., and our nation is left once again pondering the aftermath of a senseless school shooting. Parents and students are understandably shaken, while police and school officials review their emergency protocols and ask “Are we doing enough?”
Sitting on my desk is the second edition of the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence.” Part of the introduction states, “Violence prevention programs work best when they incorporate multiple strategies and address the full range of possible acts of violence in schools.”
The introduction also states, “Recognition of the rarity of school shootings and the complexity and unpredictability of human behavior should temper community initiatives as well as expectations.”
School safety is a shared responsibility, involving students, their families, teachers, police officers and the greater community. Fortunately, Scotts Valley is blessed with a variety of factors in favor of school safety.
First, a tradition of police vigilance and a relatively small geographic area have enabled the Scotts Valley Police Department to consistently average less than three minutes in our emergency response times. In early December, we received a call of a man in cardiac arrest. Officer Todd Whitehurst arrived on scene in less than 30 seconds and rendered CPR until Scotts Valley firefighters arrived. The man’s life was saved. Fast response times are critical, especially in school shooting incidents.
Second, the Scotts Valley Police Department continues to teach the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to all fifth0grade classes in Scotts Valley. Additionally, Lt. John Hohmann teaches a weekly criminal justice class at Scotts Valley High School.
Having officers on school campuses regularly is not only a visual deterrent for criminality, but also a positive way for us to connect with local youth.
Every fall we deploy Project School Education Enforcement Detail (S.E.E.D.), whereby officers monitor traffic and activity at our local schools during the first two weeks of the new school year. Adding to all of this, officers periodically visit schools as part of their regular tours of duty. Visibility and building rapport with students and school professionals are our goals.
Third, the Scotts Valley Police Department participates in a wide variety of programs and inter-agency councils, such as the Criminal Justice Council and Broad-based Apprehension, Suppression, Treatment and Alternatives (BASTA). These groups meet periodically to craft cutting-edge approaches to such issues as gang violence, school safety and more.
We enjoy an excellent relationship with our local school district and often work together on a variety of issues, including school lock downs and student safety.
A few years ago, a Scotts Valley High School student brought a papier-mâché type gun to school in his backpack for a class project. Someone thought it was a real gun and called the police. Our officers immediately responded and called upon the sheriff’s office to assist us.
The school was locked down, officers searched the campus and eventually the incident was resolved.
I remember some folks criticized the police response as an “over-reaction.” It’s easy to quarterback incidents when you already know all the facts and the outcome, but we must always err on the side of caution.
The advantage of a small community is that we know and talk to one another. Being observant and keeping the lines of communication open is important. The trick is to remain ever vigilant, yet not create a climate of fear in our schools that degrades a positive learning environment.
Don’t hesitate to contact your local schools or the Santa Cruz County Office of Education if you need tips on how to talk to your kids about school safety. Meanwhile, rest assured that the Scotts Valley Police Department is committed to ensuring public safety in our fine schools and will continue to review our protocols and strive to watch over our most prized treasure, the youth of Scotts Valley.
- John Weiss is the chief of the Scotts Valley Police Department.