Schools, cops ramp up security after shootings
Story by Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Families sent their kids off to school yesterday in a far different mindset than Friday.
The horrific massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Friday shocked people around the globe including educators and law enforcers.
“I heard somebody say this is the 9/11 of school safety issues,” Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic said.
A new paradigm may have already emerged police officers were visibly stationed at every elementary school in the county yesterday morning.
“We just wanted to reassure students and parents dropping off kids that there is a police presence,” Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty explained.
The Sheriff’s Office has three school resource officers (SROs) who rotate around many of the county’s public schools, but Chaboty said that yesterday’s presence at Roscoe, Livingston Manor, Sullivan West, Eldred and Tri-Valley included deputies and State Police.
Liberty, Fallsburg and Monticello’s police departments sent officers to the schools in their communities.
Chaboty admitted the heightened presence cannot be sustained for long, but there’s a need to respond to the concerns rising from the tragedy in a Connecticut community just two hours east of Sullivan County.
“We’re trying to allay fears,” he explained.
Martinkovic added that those responsible for school security continue to maintain a readiness for the unimaginable.
“Since Columbine, there has been a lot of activity ... within the school community for the protection of the school and its students,” he remarked, noting that the quick police response to the Connecticut shootings is being credited with saving lives.
Earlier this year, a full-scale emergency drill was conducted at Monticello Central School, with response times and procedures assessed in depth, Martinkovic recalled.
“We’ve also had two drills at the college ... and we continue to talk to all the schools,” he added.
Beyond that, however, “there is not an awful lot we can do, in all honesty,” he admitted. “We don’t want to turn these schools into forts.
“... But at the same time, we want our kids to be safe.”
Martinkovic and Chaboty said that ensuring a safe atmosphere begins with ordinary people parents, teachers and students who, as the slogan goes, “see something and say something.”
“We need to make sure that kind of information is processed, and it will be,” Martinkovic assured.
For those who are worried about retribution or otherwise being identified, Chaboty said the Sheriff’s Office runs a completely anonymous and confidential tips line: 807-0158.
“We get tips all the time, and we are always investigating,” he affirmed.
Schools, too, are responding.
In Liberty, Interim Supt. Ed Rhine activated the district’s crisis team on Friday, then called in key personnel to review procedures.
As of yesterday, Liberty is now requiring visitors to provide identification and state a “valid reason” for entering the school, Rhine explained.
“We’re going to be more careful,” he acknowledged.
He’s attending a gathering with the state education commissioner later this week and plans to make a pitch to him.
“We need to have a police officer in every school building ... someone who is armed and trained to deal with these situations,” Rhine explained.
He understands the funding is not there currently. Indeed, to accomplish such in Liberty without more money, the district would probably have to cut teaching positions (which it’s not currently considering).
But for now, the Liberty Police Department is assigning extra officers to the district’s campuses.
“There will be a visible police presence for the near future,” said Rhine.
In the meantime, he like so many others around the nation and world grieves for the families of the victims in Connecticut and struggles with the new reality the tragedy has brought about.
“I spent the weekend depressed and breaking into tears,” Rhine admitted.
“We’re ALL victims of this,” said Martinkovic. “And we have to figure out where we’re going from here.”