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State police, schools to partner

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Virginia State Police officials are working to form partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to help provide more security in county schools, but one local sheriff said that is just one of several options that could make schools safer.

Virginia State Police (VSP) Sgt. Robert Carpentieri said troopers will partner with local agencies on a statewide initiative to increase law enforcement presence in schools.

“This will not be an everyday thing,” but troopers will be working in “every school and in every area” part-time to ensure students, teachers and others are safe, he said.

In the new initiative, troopers will be assigned to particular schools in their area, and they periodically will be in that school to attend assemblies, eat lunch or just walk the hallways, Carpentieri said, adding that the initiative is at no additional cost to taxpayers.

State Police First Sgt. E. Malone said the initiative would not extend to city schools, mainly due to limited manpower. However, it will be in the Henry and Patrick County school divisions.

Carpentieri said the program may not be active in various school divisions in the state yet because it is in its early stages.

He also stressed that “this (program) is just to partner and supplement what local law enforcement departments are doing.”

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said he appreciates the help.

“We’ll work with anyone as far as protecting our children,” he said.

For about two years, his officers have been working in tandem with members of the school board and others to hold drills at various schools.

While “everyone hopes” that school violence never happens and “everyone is conscientious of bullying,” Perry said there is no way to totally prevent school violence.

“I think an SRO (school resource officer) has the best impact” because there is “nothing that can accomplish what a person is hopefully able to observe and react to. I think SROs are the best line of defense, but there is nothing that is “100 percent guaranteed to prevent it. Period.”

Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper, who manages the jails in Martinsville and provides security in courtrooms and other city buildings, said that “the visibility of a uniformed police officer is always good,” and he is pleased the state police will help provide security in schools.

But “I don't think the answer to the problem is necessarily going to be putting armed police officers in schools,” he added.

As an example, Draper cited the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, which has “a whole police force” on campus. The show of manpower and an entire police force were unable to prevent student Seung-Hui Cho from opening fire and killing more than 30 people, he said.

While it’s unlikely any one method could prevent tragedies from occurring, Draper said using technology could help officers assigned to schools.

“There are so many products on the market today with the new technology and security measures. You can actually identify somebody when they come on the property,” he said.

If an unknown person comes onto the property, security measures such as cameras and alarms may help alert officers in schools that “somebody needs to be watching them closely” until the person’s intentions are determined, he said.

“My thinking is, don’t let them get in the building to start with,” Draper said. “That’s what I’m interested in.”

He also thinks it is important to work with the entire community, including teachers, administrators, public safety/fire officials and outside agencies, because all would respond to an emergency, regardless of where the school is located, Draper said.

Although troopers will not be assigned to city schools, Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said he supports the effort.

“Anytime you have a law enforcement” presence in schools, it is good, he said.

Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith presented a proposal to the Patrick County Board of Supervisors on Monday night to increase the number of SROs in that county’s schools.

Currently, only four schools in the division have an assigned SRO, Smith said, and added that he appreciates additional help from the state police.

“We will take all the help we can get,” Smith said.


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