OpEd

Story published: 01-15-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

We must have strategy beyond laws. Jack Van Zandt

Bad things happen to the good and innocent, it has always been so.

The recent tragedy in Connecticut has opened the conversation on gun control and school safety in all parts of our nation.

When you think about it, no law, present or future, could have stopped this from happening.

A person who decides to inflict an injury like this on the community will not worry about gun or any other laws.

This shooter obtained the gun illegally, entered a school illegally with a gun, and, sadly, we know the rest. Laws meant nothing to him.

Meanwhile, the gun shop owner obeyed the law, refusing to sell the shooter a gun, in compliance with a federal gun check. The victims were all obeying the laws, having no guns on campus.

Laws alone, however, could not and did not protect them. We must have a strategy beyond laws.

One of the great things about living in this area is we have leaders who are proactive and forward thinking.

Take for instance, the School Resource Officer program established several years ago by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Education.

Specially trained police officers are assigned a full-time presence on the high school campuses and a roving presence on middle and elementary school campuses.

Random visits from on-duty patrol officers augment presence and protection.

By doing this, the schools have established on-site, specially trained, armed security able to provide an immediate response to a threat if and when needed.

SROs develop an in-depth knowledge of the school layout. They know the teachers, students, administrators, the school schedule.

They establish positive relationships with students by visiting classrooms, presenting information on topics such as safe driving, personal safety, or by just “being there” and answering questions the students may have about law enforcement or police work. They have also worked with students to build PSAs promoting safety.

Students, teachers and administrators have an on-site ‘go-to’ resource if there is a suspicion of trouble.

The success of this program is a direct result of the close working relationship that exists between the WCSO and the school board.

Dr. Susan Kiernan, an assistant director of schools in Washington County, noted that she and Director Ron Dykes consider this program “a real blessing and look forward to it continuing.”

Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the program has “reaped benefits beyond those we planned. It is one of the most important programs we have.”

It is comforting to know that the planning, preparation and communications are in place to ensure we have safe schools. The SRO concept is implemented in such a way that it builds this bond while maintaining a ready response to address incidents quickly and effectively.

Sandy Hook tells us that, like it or not, times have changed and we must be prepared to confront this type of incident in our schools at all times.

Expanding this to full-time coverage at the middle and elementary schools would be money well spent.

Jack Van Zandt