Schools, police work closely on security

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Eight years to the day after the Columbine shootings shocked thenation and just days after the most prolific mass shooting inAmerican history at Virginia Tech, violence on school campuses is agrim reality.

But the Brookhaven Police Department and city school officilasare working together to insure that local campuses are safe onevery level – from the streets to the hallways.

“I think security in our schools these days is essential,” saidAlexander Junior High School Principal Johnny Waller. “Although wedon’t anticipate a problem, we want to make sure we’reprepared.”

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And police presence in the schools starts as soon as the doorsopen in the fall.

“At the beginning of the school year, (Police) Chief (Pap)Henderson addressed our student bodies,” said James Tillman, deputysuperintendent of Brookhaven Schools. “Just to make sure there areno weapons or drugs, the consequences are given at the beginning ofthe year, as well as stated in the handbook. We have a goodrelationship with Pap, and he gives us great input.”

The police department provides input on several levels, startingwith daily walk-throughs at every school in town.

“We’re in every school several times a day,” said Henderson. “Wejust want to let the administration and teachers know we’re thereand help them feel more comfortable.”

The Mississippi School of the Arts has a unique situation inthat it has dorms on campus and needs around-the-clocksurveillance. Director of School Safety Richard Caraway said havinga real police officer on campus at all times is both a comfort tostudents and faculty as well as a deterrent for potentialtrouble.

“The BPD provides us with 24-hour police coverage while the kidsare here, and they’ve done that as long as we’ve been here,” hesaid. “It’s great for the general public to have a positiveimpression as far as our security for our school. It also gives usa level of security that goes beyond just a security company.”

Henderson said the around-the-clock surveillance at MSA is madeeasier for BPD because of the school’s advanced technology.

“They have great security in place, and outstanding equipment,”he said. “That’s a great asset to the police department and theschool both. They’re doing outstanding managing the security ofthat facility.”

Henderson has long seen to it that there is a positive andlasting relationship between area schools and the policedepartment.

“It’s good for the kids to get to know the officers as friends,”he said. “They enjoy seeing us and we love being around them.”

Jonathon Alford, one of the BPD officers on security detail forMSA, said getting to know the students can be one of the best partsof the job.

“You get to know the kids and they get to know you,” he said.”Then they don’t see you as just a cop, it gives them a chance toknow us better than just, ‘That’s the guy that wrote me aticket.'”

Marzell Brooks provides security at Alexander Junior HighSchool. He echoed Alford’s sentiments.

“It’s wonderful getting to do this job,” he said. “It’s fun, andit’s something to look forward to at the end of your shift. Notonly do you get to know the kids, but it helps you with your workon the street because you know so many people.”

Tillman elaborated on the fact that the safety of the kids andthe school system is imperative in a society that is more and moreviolent.

“The safety of the students is our number one priority,” hesaid. “The reason we have regular police officers here is to makesure the students and parents know we’re serious about safety inour schools. Both Officer Brooks and Officer David Johnson over atBrookhaven High School have been here for several years and do amagnificent job for us.”

Caraway also pointed out that security issues don’t always stemfrom issues inside the school.

“Sometimes irate parents want to start an altercation with ateacher, and it really helps to deter any problems you might haveto have a police officer here,” he said. “Plus, from the things yousee on the news, you never know when a fight or a shooting couldbreak out.”

In the case of a security breach, however, the area schools allhave plans in place to secure the premises and deal with theproblem.

“We’d definitely call for backup from the PD,” said Alford.”That’s one of the first things you learn: you don’t do anythingalone. You wouldn’t dream of handling a situation like thatyourself.”

Waller said that at the first sign of any trouble, Brooks’ firstjob would be to see the students to safety.

“We do have a crisis management plan in place,” he said. “AndOfficer Brooks would help the administration secure the students,then he would go back in and make sure to help corral whatever thesituation is.”

Waller also emphasized that the police department would becalled in immediately, not just because it makes sense, but becauseof the close bond they have developed with the school systems.

“They do such an excellent job,” he said. “The communicationbetween the PD and schools in general is outstanding.”

But, said Alford, at least at MSA there seems to be good rapportbetween students.

“The kids really aren’t a problem here,” he said. “It’s amazingthe artwork they do, plus the normal high school classes, and theyall seem to really get along. They’re all great kids.”