By Aaron Blevins, 1/10/2013
Police keep high profile as students return to classes
Following the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck assured parents that the LAPD would be increasing its patrols at city schools when classes reconvened on Jan. 7 after three weeks of winter break.
The department has followed through, and no major incidents have been reported since the beginning of the week, Los Angeles School Police Department Chief Steve Zipperman said. Many parents, staff members and media outlets had contacted the department with concerns prior to the end of winter break.
“I think it’s a normal reaction, especially with a significant event that occurred,” Zipperman said. “What they did see was a very robust police presence. We continue to take a look at all safety issues and making sure we have things in place, and [we] always try to take a look at what can we do that we’re not doing to make things even safer.”
At Gardner Street Elementary School, the increased police presence was noticed. Principal Ken Urbina said that LAPD and school police officers visited the school twice on Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s calming, and I think it’s important that the community sees this,” he said. “They feel more comfortable when they know that, physically, something is being done.”
Urbina said the school received several phone calls from concerned parents prior to Jan. 7. He said the school always maintains a secure campus, but it welcomed additional officers this week.
At one point on Tuesday, four or five officers were at Gardner Street Elementary School, and the school received calls from concerned parents who were wondering if an incident had occurred on campus, Urbina said.
“It’s really about [finding] the balance,” he added.
Zipperman said the school police department has partnered with several agencies to increase officers’ presence at L.A. schools. He said the agencies will continue to evaluate how it deploys resources.
“As we move forward … we believe that we will be able to maintain at least a visit to the elementary schools once a day, barring any unusual occurrence that may happen in the city,” Zipperman said.
While the school police department had a daily, visible presence at most Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools prior to the Connecticut shooting, the department did put some specialized units in the field on Monday, he said.
“This week, all of those folks were uniformed as well, providing the necessary augmentation of resources each day, within our own department,” Zipperman said.
He said the department has received “great” feedback from administrators, school staff, parents and students. For those with loved ones in the schools, it’s comforting to see a uniform presence and feel a heightened sense of security, Zipperman said.
“I think that’s the important thing,” he added.
The department is responsible for the safety of approximately 600,000 students each school day, the school police chief said. He said his police force has approximately 350 sworn, armed officers and 130 unarmed school safety officers.
“That’s an awesome responsibility to ensure the safety of everybody, and that doesn’t include the staff members and administrators,” Zipperman added. “We specialize in this area, as far as school policing. Our campus officers obviously have a relationships with the schools. …They know their schools, they know the students and they know how to deal with issues on campus. We specialize in this, and we do it well.”
He said the partner agencies, like the LAPD and sheriff’s department, are becoming more familiar with LAUSD campuses and their respective environments. If an incident does occur, these partner agencies will have built relationships with schools and will have a better understanding of the school police department’s policies, Zipperman said.
“Our schools are the safest place for kids to be during the day,” he said. “Parents need to be reassured and students need to be reassured that we are around.”