School safety task force meets for first time

March 15, 2013 4:42:25 AM PDT
The task force charged with studying and implementing Wake County School's new safety plan held its first meeting Thursday.

The coalition was assembled in response to December's Connecticut school shooting.

Those in attendance heard a presentation which basically gave an overview of the security measures in place at Wake County Schools from the number of security cameras to the number of security guards.

The task force, of nearly 20 professionals, will be pouring over this information to lay a foundation for what changes they'd like to see. The team has a broad range of backgrounds including law enforcement, mental health, and emergency management.

"We don't want people walking down the halls armed every minute of the day," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. "That's just not a good environment. So we're going to have to come up with a balance. What is that going to be, I don't know."

Harrison is leading the effort along with retired police Capt. Al White.

"We're going to start with all ideas on the table," said school board member John Tedesco.

Everything from the debate over armed guards, to security cameras, to the way schools are built could be up for discussion.

"You're going to get a lot of 'I think we need to this. I think we need to do that,' but it comes down to the reality of what can we do," said Harrison.

The reality is that it could mean big bucks for Wake County Schools. However, Harrison hopes task force members can brainstorm less costly ways to protect students and staff.

"Dollars are always a concern in a tight budget climate, but nothing is more important than the safety of our students," said Tedesco.

One of the biggest issue is inconsistency.

"[There are] 111 schools without a SRO (school resource officer) or an Allied Barton officer," said Kendrick Scott, with Wake County Schools security.

Right now, the 169 schools in the district are not on the same playing field when it comes to security.  

"We have the haves and have nots," said Russ Smith, with Wake County Schools security. "We've got PTAs that put a high regard on that and they assist schools with raising money."

Money in the past has gone to security, which leaves some schools with adequate security while others have none.

There are 21 elementary schools with no cameras at all. However, it's not just the lack of equipment. Security experts say just the design of a school can pose a risk.

"When you have 40 modular units in addition to your main building, just having a fire drill poses a challenge," said school board chairman Keith Sutton.

Harrison said it's not going to happen overnight.

"It's going to take time, months and probably years for a lot of this to be implemented," said Harrison.

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