News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 15, 2012

Vigo police to ramp up school security

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Students in Vigo County schools can expect to see an increased police presence after a deadly rampage erupted in Connecticut Friday.

Clark Cottom, Chief Deputy of the Vigo County Sheriff Department, issued a media release that afternoon announcing the return of foot patrols inside middle and elementary schools beginning Monday. Presently, all three county high schools already have law enforcement in place, he stated.

“The foot patrol in county schools was actually started by Sheriff [Bill] Harris and has since tapered off over the years. Sheriff [Greg] Ewing is committed to the safety of the schools and has said this policy will remain in effect through the remainder of his term,” he stated in the release.

Earlier in the day, Ray Azar, Vigo County School Corporation’s coordinator of student services, said in a media conference that local schools hold security high among their priorities, reviewing their plans on a regular basis.

“We feel like our plan is a good one,” he said.

Staff throughout the corporation were apprised of the incident in Connecticut and instructed to act accordingly, whether in terms of talking with students, or being on the watch for potential copy-cats scenarios.

Det. 1st Sgt. Frank Shahadey of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department said this is his 10th year as that agency’s liaison to the school corporation. The public should be aware, he said, that law enforcement and schools work together on a regular basis to prevent such occurrences.

“And we have a great security plan. We’re top notch in the whole state,” he said.

Shahadey said at least 10 officers already work inside as many schools on any given day. That number is certain to increase dramatically per Cottom’s release.

“And those guys go there. That’s their office, that’s where they go,” he said, explaining that after 33 years as a deputy, he hates working cases “after the fact.” Agencies need to be proactive in school security, he remarked.

“We don’t know what we prevent, what we discourage, just by being there,” he said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that statistically, at least one planned shooting occurs in each of the country’s schools each year, he said. Locally, officials work diligently to ensure that doesn’t happen here.

But then again, Azar pointed out that statistically speaking, schools are still much safer than other places for kids.

“Schools are statistically the safest places to be,” he said. “It could happen anywhere. Not just a school.”

Recent shootings in shopping malls, churches, movie theaters and other public venues demonstrate that, and preventing violence is part of the job, he observed.

Ever since the shootings inside Columbine High School in 1999, education officials have taken security seriously, he said, referring to that incident as a “turning point.”

But the complex dynamics of a school make it tough to pinpoint exact dangers. He explained the potential threats which exist in the home lives and domestic disputes of staff and students alike. Parents engaged in contentious custody disputes have to be taken into consideration as well.

The Vigo County School Corporation has a policy allowing it to ban individuals, parents or guardians, from school facilities if they’re deemed disruptive or violent. Individuals who violate that ban can be arrested for trespassing, he said.

“It’s not popular with the person being served, because they think they have a right to be there,” he said, adding that’s the necessity if security is to be maintained.

Shahadey said those necessities are a sad reflection of society at large.

“It’s a shame we live in a world where we have to have police in the schools,” he said.

But security concerns in the school aren’t limited to food fights in the cafeteria anymore. Domestic disputes in the home, drugs and fights in the street spill over into the lives of children, going “hand-in-hand,” he said.

“It’s the unknown,” he said, describing the greatest danger in schools. “You just have to be proactive. We have to be vigilant on this.”

Because without security, there can be no education, Shahadey pointed out. If kids don’t feel safe in the schools, they can’t learn, test or interact.

“My main priority is to make every student and staff member feel secure and safe,” he explained.

Azar said staff from secretaries to teachers partake in “active shooter drills” and receive training in their role in the case of such an event.

“And we do those things regularly,” he said.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.