SUSD Live: School safety discussion

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School safety is up for discussion only tonight. Here’s background.

Police Chief Jim West spoke first. He said the work to secure schools predates the events in Newtown last month and in Taft last week.

West said there have been recommendations that have not been implemented because of a lack of funds.

“This building has been on lock-down three times in the last week. The community we are in is suffering from an epidemic of violence. Our school district is underfunded … and our department is underfunded. We need additional operating funds. We’re squeaky tight right now.” He spoke of an incident by the School for Adults that required 50 hours of overtime to complete because of interviews with numerous witnesses and viewing of surveillance video.

He said two more sergeants are needed, as well as a records/dispatch supervisor, a dispatcher, three more officers and a community service officer. He said adding officers were help response times and provide more service to K-8 campuses, which right now are under-served. The total additions West proposes would cost close to $700,000. The community service officer wouldn’t carry a gun but would take the load off other officers and help with parking and traffic issues at the schools.

He said these recommendations are four years old. “We’ll see how we’re able to realize these plans, or not,” West said.

West said staffing has increase 24% since 2009-10 with no budget increase. He asked for an increase in the operating budget of $150,000.

Cazares: “If it’s at all possible, we should definitely do it.”

Smith: He asked about gangs. “What do we need to do better?” West: “I think every one of our schools has elements of some gang activity. The place where we’re doing the best work is the high schools.” (that’s where they have officers). “In the K-8 schools, the best work is being done with the chaplains.” (they have 18). Non-profit gang intervention groups are helping at some schools. … The number one thing with gangs is always intelligence.” The force has 20 positions, not all are filled.

Superintendent Steve Lowder: “Do we increase the number of police officers? Or do we put more money into prevention and intervention programs? One question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Is it as balanced an approach as we can take?’ I think there are more things to consider. We cannot assure absolute safety. Our society is an open society. Even if we doubled our force we could not guarantee bad things wouldn’t happen. I wish there were an easy answer.”

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