Law enforcement increase visibility at schools
by Staff reports
In the wake of a horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, as well as a spate of violent crimes closer to home, law enforcement agencies throughout the area are increasing their visible presence in schools.

Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson said these are not “lock downs” but simply an extra presence. “We’re going to be at the schools every morning for at least this week,” he said. “I don’t know if the schools are going to implementing any new policies, but hopefully just seeing officers at the schools will ease peoples’ minds.”

Talladega County Chief Deputy Jimmy Kilgore said that deputies would be playing a similar role at county schools.

“We’re calling in some additional personnel to give us a more visible presence in the schools and to supplement our school resource deputies.”

Kilgore said he didn’t know how long the additional presence would continue. “For the immediate future, we want enhance the safety at the schools. Hopefully, they will see us there and it will make people feel better.”

Sylacauga city schools have increased police presence and revised safety plans in response to the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Superintendent Renee Riggins said.

Riggins and Student Services Coordinator Bobby Hall met with Police Chief Chris Carden and Fire Chief Matt Missildine on Monday to review the safety plans for each of the system’s four schools and make any necessary improvements.

“We did a walkthrough at Indian Valley Elementary with Chief Carden and Chief Missildine this morning to see if there is anything they could see that we may have missed,” Riggins said. “Chief Carden has worked with us a lot on safety plans in the past, and he assured us there would be police presence at all the schools through the rest of the week.”

Carden said they addressed some fire exit issues during the walkthrough, and he and Missildine also visited with administrators at every school. All schools will be asked to review their safety plan with students. The plan encompasses procedures for practically any situation, Carden said.

“The safety plans are the equivalent of an ‘all hazards’ plan,” he said. “They are designed to be used in any and all situations, from fire to an animal in the school. They, of course, include procedures for an active shooter, armed intruder, domestic violence and a lot of other scenarios.”

Police maintain a constant connection with the schools through School Resource Officer Willie Kidd, who is based at the high school, but regularly visits the others. The police and fire departments also are equipped to access any of the schools at any time, Riggins said. Carden said police officers always monitor the schools closely, but were asked to have an increased presence in light of recent events.

The school system has several other safety measures in place, including doors that automatically lock, visitor sign-in through the front office, a buzz-in system at Nichols-Lawson Middle School, fencing at Indian Valley and safety cameras at Nichols-Lawson and Sylacauga High School. Riggins said they are looking to add cameras at the elementary schools as well.

School officials have received few inquiries from concerned students or parents since Friday’s shooting, Riggins said; nonetheless, she said they assure everyone they are doing all they can to keep the schools safe.

“We’re just keeping an eye out,” Riggins said.

Michael Barber, assistant superintendent for Pell City schools, said there is a heightened presence of law enforcement officers at local schools in light of last week’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“What we don’t want to do is to have kids coming to school under armed guard,” Barber said.

Barber said each school has a plan to address emergencies of all types. He did not wish to provide specifics of emergency plans for each individual school.

“We hope we never have to carry out those plans,” he said. “We have been talking to law enforcement, and we have also spoken to our administrators. We have plans in place and our principals and teachers are aware of them.”

Home staff writers Chris Norwood, Emily Adams and David Atchison contributed to this story.

© 2012