The Chesterfield Police Department is rolling out a program to expand its presence at area schools in response to the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The new program will re-assign an officer to be a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) at all 12 of the area's public and private elementary schools and at a private high school. Individual officers were already present at Chesterfield's two middle and two high schools, so the new initiative means all educational institutions will be covered.
"The purpose of this is to provide some additional safety and security," said Chesterfield Police Capt. Steven Lewis. "The officer will work with the schools and see what their needs are."
It's an initiative welcomed by the superintendents of the Parkway and Rockwood school districts, who have elementary schools in Chesterfield.
“The new elementary SRO pilot project sends a strong message that our community is continuing to do everything it can to keep our students and staff safe at school," said Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty.
Parkway spokesperson Cathy Kelly tells Patch that so far no such arrangement has been made with the Manchester or Town and Country Police Departments for schools within their cities. However, as previously reported by Patch, Town and Country police said they have met with Parkway security officials and the Mason Ridge Elementary school principal to discuss school security options. The Manchester Police Department did not respond to Patch's previous question regarding this matter.
Lewis said the new program is effectively immediately and is in response to the concerns about security expressed by local school officials following the deadly massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary where an armed gunman forced his way into the school.
It also makes Chesterfield one of the first area police departments to make a permanent commitment to placing an officer in elementary schools. The program was proposed Chesterfield Police Chief Ray Johnson, who felt it was important for the department to divert the necessary resources for the added security.
“I feel it is imperative to protect the most precious commodity in our community, our children, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure their safety and security," Johnson said.
A press release concerning the announcement described how it would work. The 13 schools would be covered by one full-time officer pulled from the department's Community Policing Unit, thereby sparring any additional costs and not impacting the number of officers on patrol. The duties previously covered by the new SRO will be covered by rescheduling and reassigning responsibilities among administrative positions.
"We don't have the ability to put an officer in every elementary school, nor do we feel that it's necessary at this time," Lewis said.
Lewis said they expect the new SRO to be able to visit each of the 13 schools multiple times per week. The individual will also work closely with school administrators to adjust his or her schedule based upon the needs of each institution.
Schools covered by the new program are:
- Parkway - Highcroft, Riverbend, Greentrails, Shenandoah
- Rockwood - Wild Horse, Kehrs Mill, Chesterfield Elementary
- Private - Ascension, Incarnate Word, St. Joseph Institute, Barat Academy, Chesterfield Montessori, Chesterfield Day School
*NOTE: Local Editor Gabrielle Biondo contributed to this article.
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