Communities, police develop plans for increased security in schools

Published: Monday, Jan. 21 2013 11:05 p.m. MST

Quest Academy, a charter school in Weber County, has put together what it calls "comfort zones," also affectionately referred to as "Cop Stops," where any uniformed law enforcement officer can stop by for coffee and a granola bar before returning to the beat.

Winston Armani, Deseret News

WEST HAVEN, Weber County — Quest Academy expanded this year with a new building to include more students and a ninth grade.

But the charter school, which began accepting students in 2008, also opened its doors to welcome uniformed law enforcement.

"It's about keeping kids safe," said principal Lani Rounds.

Following recent school shootings, including in Newtown, Conn., Rounds decided that just because Quest Academy didn't have the funding to have a dedicated police officer stand guard didn't mean students, faculty and staff didn't deserve to feel safe.

After winter break, the school began offering complimentary beverages and snacks to uniformed police officers who check in at the office throughout the day.

"In my mind, even having a police officer's car in the parking lot, I think, would be a deterrent to somebody stopping by that might want to do harm," Rounds said. "We feel pretty safe anyhow, but it is an added sense of security when you have a trained officer in the school."

And West Haven is not the only community in the state with a plan to increase police presence in schools. Pleasant Grove police officers also stop by schools and classrooms in their patrolling areas each day.

"We figured it would be a good way to make our presence there," said Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Mike Roberts. "It was how we could settle some of the fears of the teachers and school kids at the same time, and our officers have loved it. They love getting to know the kids and being a part of the school day."

Weber County sheriff's deputy Will Smith stopped by Quest Academy's "Cop Stop" this week. He said the hot drinks are enticing this time of year.

"It's a great incentive, but our main concern is to make the teachers and students feel safe here at school," Smith said. "I think they feel a lot more comfort knowing there is police presence in the building. I think it puts them at ease."

Officers are welcome at the school any time of the day, whenever school is in session, which Rounds said makes it even safer, as there's no scheduled time an officer is expected to be there.

Smith said it's also a morale boost, as students enjoy the interaction.

"It's good for the kids to see a cop in a positive sense," he said. "They learn that cops are nice and can help you and everything."

The school, which serves about 900 students in kindergarten through ninth grade and focuses on community involvement, is located in a sparsely populated area, where the closest convenience store is miles away. Inasmuch, Rounds said she hopes the snack station becomes an oasis for officers driving through the area.

The school offers a healthy assortment of snacks, as opposed to the doughnuts police officers are stereotypically thought to enjoy.

They can choose from a variety of granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky and other snacks, as well as a choice of cold and hot drinks. Officers have already been taking advantage of the new service, staying sometimes up to two hours and helping the school enhance its routine safety drills.

Rounds said the school has always hosted regular lockdown drills, but being prepared became more important in the aftermath of recent shootings at schools around the country. She said she pored over current policies in the days following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"I wanted to make sure we are doing everything we need to do," Rounds said. "This is just another way for us to have a law enforcement presence and learn what we can improve on. But I think we do a pretty good job making sure everybody is going to be safe in the event that something should happen."

Email: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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