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Flashpoint

September 23, 2013

FLASHPOINT: Vigo County: Cutting-edge of school safety

TERRE HAUTE — The recent shooting at the D.C. Navy Yard has been all over the news lately. When tragedies like this occur, we are reminded of other tragedies our country has faced in the past. Specifically, for me, this brought to mind Sandy Hook Elementary. When I saw the news that day, I was devastated. As a father, my heart immediately went out to those affected by this incident; the families, the friends and those who lost their lives during that unimaginable act of terror. Listening in dismay, as that unimaginable story continued to unfold, I kept thinking, what could have been done to prevent this horrific event from taking place?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent every life-threatening situation from occurring; however, we can train, plan and prepare for these types of situations to help prevent lives from being lost. Every fire or tornado drill that our children take part in has the potential to save a life. Although we would rather not think of these catastrophes ever happening, they exist, and we must utilize every available resource to help prevent tragedies.

Reviewing the topic of school safety, the General Assembly passed Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 1 which in part established the School Safety Summer Committee. I was appointed to this committee by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, in June, and although we discussed the issue of school safety during the legislative session, these summer meetings will provide lawmakers with additional time and resources to focus on this specific issue.

The committee has met once since its inception, which was very productive. However, I’m particularly excited about the second meeting, as I have invited members of our community to testify regarding a remarkable initiative that has been established in Vigo County to better protect schools in the district.

Vigo County residents realized that safety is a collective endeavor, and they concluded that the best way to protect their children was to combine their resources. As a result, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and the Terre Haute Police Department joined Vigo County School Corp. in creating the School Security Program last January.

Through private contributions from community members, funds from the local school corporation as well as city and county dollars, Vigo County was able to place a school protection officer in every single school. These school protection officers are current and prior police officers, and it is comforting to know that our children are being protected by highly experienced, trained individuals. A school protection officer is not the same as a school resource officer. A school resource officer is one who is assigned to a school from a local law enforcement agency to focus on overall school safety, assist with student discipline and also provide mentoring opportunities.

This public, private partnership is on the cutting-edge of school safety initiatives, and I believe this model could serve as a template for the rest of Indiana — possibly the nation. If a trained school protection officer had been present during situations like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, lives lost might have been saved.

If there is one thing I have learned as a parent, though, it is that there is no way to ensure the complete safety of our children, but we still take every precaution in order to do so. I applaud the steps taken by members of Vigo County to better protect our children, Indiana’s future, and I look forward to having this discussion regarding their initiative.

Visit www.in.gov/legislative on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to watch the School Safety Summer Committee discuss this initiative. Click on the “Watch Indiana General Assembly LIVE” link and then select the Senate Chamber from the drop-down menu to view the meeting.

Rep. Alan Morrison, a first-term Republican, represents all of Vermillion County and portions of Clay, Fountain, Parke, Vigo and Warren counties. He is a resident of Terre Haute.

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