Law enforcement and school district officials said a meeting of the Safe Schools Partnership program Thursday morning produced meaningful discussions about ways the two groups can work together to improve safety at St. Louis-area schools in the wake of last week’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It was a very frank and open conversation between law enforcement and school officials about what can we do, what else can we do,” St. Louis County Police Department Chief Tim Fitch said in an interview with Patch after the meeting, which involved police departments and school districts from across the St. Louis area.
Fitch made national headlines earlier this week when he put forward the idea of arming school officials as a way of deterring future mass shootings. School leaders at Thursday’s meeting, however, failed to embrace the idea.
“The school officials here overwhelming reject that idea, which was no surprise,” he said. “There were a couple of hands that were raised when I said who was interested pursing that idea, but just a few. At this point, I don’t suspect we will have this conversation again about arming school officials until the next school shooting.”
Instead, Fitch said school officials were interested in implementing improved training on actions teachers can take when there is an active shooter in their building, threat assessments of individual buildings to identify security vulnerabilities and putting police officers in area elementary schools.
“That was their main interest,” he said, of the last option. “But their main concern about doing that is how are we going to pay for it?”
The idea of asking voters to approve a specific tax that could fund an added police presence was discussed as well, but Fitch said asking for tax increases is always a “significant hurdle.”
The St. Louis County Police immediately increased its presence at the elementary schools it provides security for following the massacre and Fitch said “that is not going to stop.” This will involve random visits to schools and walk-throughs along with having an officer present at the beginning and end of the school day.
Desi Kirchhofer, Deputy Superintendent with the Parkway School District, said after the meeting that they had no specific plans yet on funding additional school resource officers. Instead, he said the focus will be on working with the St. Louis County Police district and other law enforcement agencies to maintain this increased presence.
The meeting took place at the Parkway School District Instructional Services Center and was itself not open to the public.