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School Security and Safety Are Changing Due to Enhanced Police Services in Cities Throughout America

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Roger L. Kemp
January 11, 2020

The public services police departments provide to schools in our nation’s cities are changing rapidly. This is due to the national enhancement of police services, departments’ greater use of new technologies and the increased diversity seen in schools, creating “best practices” within this sector of governance. Gun safety also is a significant evolving best practice in school security and safety.

Some best practices are described below. Depending on the nature of these service changes, the funds needed to implement them and staffing required to do so, many of these changes have been implemented directly by police chiefs. However, other services changes might require approval of the city manager and possibly the city’s selected officials.

  • Police officers are increasingly entertaining public outreach to schools via social media, video and other applications and technologies.
  • Police departments are developing “police to citizen” websites to empower citizens and students with information about their community’s police services. This information is made available for citizens and students to access 24/7/365 using personal technology.
  • Police departments are beginning to use the nation’s “Wireless Emergency Alert System” to solicit citizen and student feedback on recent crime incidents, and encourage citizens and students to help facilitate locating the suspects.
  • Police departments are increasingly using encrypted radio systems so criminals can’t use their smart phones to monitor a department’s emergency response to a citizen’s or student’s local “911” call-for-service.
  • Using “Domain Awareness Systems,” primarily surveillance cameras used to monitor school entrances, parking lots and nearby traffic intersections, is on the rise.
  • Police departments in some cities are developing “Coffee with a Cop” or “Pizza with the Police” programs to provide citizens of all ages with the opportunity to meet their local officers. Similarly, those communities with public trails will host “Hike with a Cop” programs.
  • Police departments across the country are becoming more diverse, reflecting the evolving ethnic composition of their respective communities and schools.
  • Many departments are requiring officers to wear and use body cameras to visually document criminal incidents. Citizens also can videotape such incidents on their cell phones for immediate transmission and dissemination to school officials and police officers.
  • Many departments are increasingly holding “Police Community Forums” annually (or more frequently) to educate citizens and students about the services officers provide and answer any questions. Some of these forums may take place during public safety festivals or other outdoor events at parks and other, similar venues.
  • Many departments are requiring officers to use non-lethal weapons when they respond to selected crime scenes, especially those at schools.
  • School resource officers (SROs) are increasingly being assigned to all public schools—elementary, middle and high schools, benefiting students and teachers alike.
  • Police officers (usually SROs) in schools are increasingly providing anti-drug educational programs and services.
  • Many departments are holding workshops for school officials, parents and students on using social media appropriately.
  • Many departments now have “Ride with a Cop” or “Citizens Police Academy” programs to educate members of the community on the types of services their departments provide.
  • The number of neighborhood police officers assigned to work with citizens and students to help reduce crime in their neighborhoods is increasing, as is the number of neighborhood associations and the number of officers assigned to work with them.
  • Police departments are also increasingly forming Neighborhood Initiative Units to help their officers get to know the citizens they serve, including business persons, homeowners and students.
  • Related, police departments are increasing neighborhood sub-stations to deal with and resolve neighborhood police and school issues, working with local merchants, citizens and students to do so.
  • The number of Police Explorer Programs is increasing to help educate and train students about police services and issues, such as gun safety. These programs are useful especially for young people thinking about joining a police department and becoming a police officer.
  • Bike patrols and walking patrols are on the rise in downtown neighborhood school areas, making officers more visible and available to students, business owners and others in these communities.
  • Police departments are increasingly working with local housing authorities to ensure U.S. Housing and Urban Development rules and regulations that govern the use of Section 8 housing are being enforced.
  • Police department officials are enhancing their working relationships with higher levels of government at the county, state and federal levels to obtain technical support, perhaps apply for federal grants and more.
  • Some departments are using their parking lots to create “Safe Exchange Zones” where members of the community can pick up items purchased online from a stranger in the area.

These innovative practices represent new and evolving police/community services to help police chiefs, officers and administrative staffs to work with the community to build an improved network to serve their city. All parties involved should be congratulated on these efforts as they benefit our communities and our nation as a whole.

Author: Roger Kemp is a career city manager, having managed council-manager government cities in California, Connecticut and New Jersey. He also is a distinguished adjunct professor in the Executive MPA Program in the Edward S. Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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