BRISTOL - When Police Chief Brian Gould heard about yet another school shooting in February, he knew he wanted his officers to have more of a presence in the city’s schools.
The two public high schools already have two designated school resource officers, and others have an officer who floats among them during the day, but Gould wanted officers checking in at all the city’s schools, to take a walk through the buildings to talk with students and staff - which his department has been able to achieve with help from school officials.
“I do think it’s important that the public sees we’re there and that you don’t know when we’re going,” Gould said. “It does act as a deterrent.”
Immediately after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Fla., which killed 14 students and three school staff, Bristol police began sending cruisers to schools throughout the day.
Two weeks later, after police contacted school officials, a plan was developed to send an officer to each of the city’s public schools at irregular times throughout the week, with the exception of the two public high schools, which have an officer there throughout the day. They aim to visit each public school in the course of a week with no set pattern.
Patrol officers in cruisers also perform perimeter checks at the public high schools and the parochial schools.
“I want the public to know we’re paying attention to the safety of our children,” Gould said, adding that he believes his plan is a proactive approach to dealing with school safety.
“I think it’s about building the relationship with the schools and the police department,” said Officer Gregg Lattanzio, one of the officers who regularly visits the schools. “It also makes people feel safe when we’re popping in at unexpected times.”
Lattanzio said it gives police a chance to better learn the layouts of school buildings in the event anything ever does happen.
“They learn where back doors, stairwells and other things are in the buildings,” said South Side School Principal David Huber.
“It’s been fantastic,” Huber said. “It’s nice to be able to say we truly have a relationship with the Bristol Police Department. It has been nothing but a positive from everyone. I’ve not gotten one complaint.”
In addition to making students and staff feel safer, Huber said, having police regularly visit his school for the last few months has stopped the panic once created when a police car was seen.
The program has created dialogue between police and school officials about safety protocols and emergency drills.
Police have also been able to develop relationships with students by simply stopping in the hallway and starting a conversation.
Gould originally planned to have officers visiting schools until the end of the current school year, but after getting such positive feedback, he plans to make the practice permanent.
“At this point I’m looking to make it part of our daily operations for the future, as long as the school system is OK with it,” Gould said. “We’re not waiting for something to happen.”
“I just know it’s greatly appreciated,” Huber said.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.