Dozens of school administrators, law enforcement officers and school security liaisons gathered at the Westchester County Courthouse on Feb. 11 for a workshop on the prevention, planning and response to school violence in and around Westchester County.
Hosted by District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr., attendees heard presentations on issues ranging from hate crimes and New York’s Red Flag Law to recommendations for police-school liaisons.
“Our children are collectively the most vulnerable among us,” Scarpino said. “We send them to school each day wanting to believe they are safe inside the walls of our school buildings under the watchful eyes of professionals. The fear that someone may take advantage of them at a time when they should only be concerned with the next school bell is chilling.”
Scarpino noted that while Westchester is home to some of the most reputable school administrators in the country, the topic of school safety is ever-evolving and remains a focal point of national conversation. Communication and education are critical to establishing an effective plan to prevent and respond to any threat at one of our schools.
In September, the Westchester County School Safety Commission, which is co-chaired by DA Scarpino and Westchester County Executive George Latimer, released its report “Creating Safer Schools: Recommendations to Strengthen and Enhance Prevention, Planning and Response to School Violence.” Those recommendations were collated from research, as well as the knowledge and experience of educators, mental health experts, law enforcement, first responders, parents and students whose sole purpose is the safety and security of the children and young adults of Westchester, as well as the faculty and staff who educate them.
Those presenting at this morning’s workshop included Brandon Cruz, a member of the commission and Supervisor of School Safety & Facilities at Southern Westchester BOCES, who discussed the growing need for Threat Assessment Teams.
Chief Criminal Investigator Chris McNerney highlighted the role of law enforcement in the event of a violent school incident and urged administrators to adopt some or all of the recommendations from the commission’s “Creating Safer Schools” report.
In addition, First Deputy District Attorney Paul Noto made a presentation on New York State’s “Red Flag Law,” which helps to prevent persons in crisis from harming themselves or others by temporarily removing guns and prohibiting the purchase of firearms. This new measure, which went into effect last August, allows school administrators and others to file a petition in court for an order prohibiting the possession or purchase of a firearm, rifle or shotgun by a person who is found to be dangerous to him/herself or others.
Workshop attendees also heard from Assistant District Attorney Susan Brownbill-Vega, head of the DA’s Hate Crimes Unit, who discussed how school administrators should respond to possible hate crimes in schools.
“Whether targeted by students, former students, former employees or an individual out to make a statement, it is important for schools to be prepared for any event that might put the safety of students and staff at risk,” Scarpino said. “This workshop was aimed at providing school leadership with a strong blueprint for planning, prevention and response to threats and active incidents.”
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