As a Police Chief, School Board Trustee, and father of school-aged children, I am horrified and saddened by the unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
I am confident that the entire community is with me in offering our thoughts and prayers to the victims, families, and all those affected by this horrendous crime.
The safety and security of our schools is and always has been a main concern for the Arcata Police Department. While I believe our schools are safe, we do have plans in place to respond to a critical incident at any one of our local schools. However, our focus has always been on prevention.
APD’s Cops on Campus is a program in which officers “adopt” a local school which is on their beat. For the length of a school year, or a rotation of a shift, one officer takes some time while on patrol to be a presence on that campus. The officer may stop in during sports events, assemblies, lunch or nutrition breaks or other times to casually talk to students, staff, and faculty at the schools.
The goal is to be a non-enforcement presence on campus, to relate with the school community in a manner that is positive and focused on student success.
Some schools may also embrace the officer developing informal relationships with high-risk students. Officers are aware of behavioral concerns such as tardiness, disruptive actions in class, or violations of school rules.
Officers approach relationships with these students in a positive and supportive manner, offering incentives and encouragement for behavior change. Officers are not required to have a set schedule for when they come to the campus, it’s up to them to define the role as unique to them. Officers brief the Youth and Family Services Manager when concerns develop either with specific students, with issues related to school safety, or on other topics that present themselves throughout the year.
The Quota International Club launched a program called “Cops ’n’ Kids” which focuses on high-risk children, literacy and building positive relationships between local law enforcement and youth.
Quota International raises funds to purchase books from a select publisher who provides high-quality books in English and Spanish for children in grades K through 8. Donations of books can also be made to Quota for review and distribution.
Quota International brings the books to Arcata Police Department on a semi-regular basis for the officers to distribute to local youth in two ways: through arranged events at local schools and as they meet children in the course of their daily work. Quota has also provided bags for patrol cars so officers have books available both in the office and in the field.
These two programs create opportunities for our officers to connect with kids in our schools, to have a presence on campus, and in-part provides a sense of safety and security.
These are just two examples of several preventative programs the APD is using to enhance school safety. However, the protection of our schools does not rest solely with law enforcement. School administrators, teachers, and staff have a role. Students, parents, and the greater community also play a vital role in the prevention of school violence.
We will use this senseless tragedy to reconnect with our schools to ensure appropriate emergency plans are in place and adequate training is happening on-campus.
Tom Chapman is chief of the Arcata Police Department.