In wake of Newtown tragedy, LAPD to step up presence at elementary, middle schools
The Los Angeles Police Department plans to significantly increase its presence at the city’s more than 540 public elementary and middle schools, with Chief Charlie Beck saying the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre has created a “new reality” that his department must address.
In outlining his plan Monday, Beck said his goal is for uniformed officers to visit the public school campuses on a daily basis, a major change in LAPD deployment strategy that will add an additional logistical stress on a police force already stretched thin by the city’s fiscal crisis.
“Somebody in a uniform is going to stop by everyday at these schools,” Beck said in an interview.
The chief stressed that he and his aides were still drawing up the details of the plan, which he said will begin when students return from winter break next month. Any private or charter school that wants to be included will be, he added.
Until Friday, Beck said, he and his command staff didn’t much worry about elementary schools. The school walls, he trusted, effectively sealed off the youngest of the city’s students from whatever violence or other crimes may be unfolding outside them. The relatively few LAPD officers assigned to school issues focused almost entirely on the high schools.
“After all,” Beck said of elementary schoolchildren, “these are supposed to be one the safest places in their worlds.”
The shooting, the chief said, has forced him to “recalibrate his department to this new reality.”
“A barrier has been broken in our culture,” Beck added at the news conference. “It’s ourjob… all of our jobs, to make sure that we resurrect that barrier and make our children safe.”
He tempered expectations, saying the amount of time officers spend at the schools will be relatively brief, since the daily visits will occur as part of their regular patrol duties. Though visits won’t be possible all the time because of changing work schedules, Beck said he wants it to be the same officer or two checking in on a school so they can become familiar with the faculty and students.
Getting to each of the 457 elementary schools and 86 middle schools in the city will require diverting about 1,200 officers each day from their regular assignments, Beck estimated. While manageable, he conceded the new responsibility will add further strain at stations that sometimes have only a handful of patrol cars on the streets in a given shift.
“Logistically, it’s a big deal,” he said. “But it’s us recognizing a new priority and that there is a new reality.”
The LAPD’s is the most aggressive of several moves being made by Southern Californialawenforcement agencies in the wake of the shooting.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department announced it would be increasing patrols around schools in its jurisdiction and making regular visits onto the campuses. Most of the roughly 1,000 schools in the mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District are located in territory patrolled by the two agencies.
Police in Long Beach have been ordered to do the same, with Chief Jim McDonnell directing his officers to conduct foot patrols on school campuses that he called “walk and talks.”
Both Beck and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy were challenged on whether the new measures could have prevented an incident similar to the one at Sandy Hook.
“It’s a heck of a lot better than if an LAPD officer is not assigned to the school,” Deasy said in an interview.
Deasy also made clear the school district’s much smaller police force is incapable of touching base with every school, every day. The district currently spends $52 million on its own police force — a cost that would at least triple if it provided an officer for every school, Deasy said.
Beck acknowledged his plan would not shield a school entirely against an attack, but said the officer visits will occur at different times of day and, so, leave a would-be attacker guessing about security on a campus. And although the Connecticut school had strong security measures in place, he said the death toll would have probably been far less if a police officer had been on campus when Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman, arrived.
The plan, Beck said, would ease safety concerns and give officers a better chance of intercepting someone bent on doing something violent.
“Obviously there is a feel-good, assurance part of it designed to give parents and students some confidence in the safety at their schools. But it is also about trying to increase the chances of putting us at the right place at the right time if something does happen,” he said.
Not everyone was impressed by the idea of daily random visits from officers.
“That seems sort of bizarre, totally ineffective and unnecessary,” said David Dobson, a parent and PTA leader in the Burbank Unified School District. But Dobson said he understood the motivation. “When something like this happens people feel obliged to do something to make people feel like something has changed so now it can’t happen to them.”
Beck’s concerns, however, were underscored over the weekend when LAPD officers arrested a 24-year-old man for allegedly threatening online to carry out attacks like the one in Newtown at several elementary schools. Authorities seized nine guns from the East Hollywood home where the man was found, although on Monday prosecutors declined to file charges because the comments were too vague. Sheriff’s deputies are also looking into allegations that a 14-year-old student at Canyon View Junior High School in San Dimas threatened to bring a gun to campus and kill a teacher last week.
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