The police agencies of Haralson County are no exception. Although burdened with a lack of manpower, the leaders of these departments all report they are marshaling their resources to protect the students of Haralson County.
Sheriff Eddie Mixon said these efforts have already brought a heightened sense of security to parents, educators and students. And the leaders of the police departments of Bremen, Tallapoosa and Buchanan say additional plans are under way to augment the procedures they have put in place.
After the Newtown incident, numerous communities across the country are working to increase the protection of students at public and private primary, elementary and high schools. Most of these plans focus on the physical security of the schools, while others examine ways disturbed individuals can be spotted in time and diverted to mental or social caregivers.
Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School outside Newtown on the morning of Dec. 14, and then gunned down 26 people, including 20 small children. It was the latest in a series of school shootings that have taken place at educational facilities across the nation over the past decade. Yet, this incident struck parents, police and government officials particularly hard due to the ages to the victims.
Mixon said he has been “told more than once” that increased patrols by his deputies at school facilities “brings comfort to the children.” But he said there is more to be done.
“We continue to work alongside County School Superintendent Brett Stanton and his leadership team to explore effective ways that we can work together to make our schools even safer,” said Mixon by e-mail. “As the husband of a teacher in a county school, and the father of six children who attended Haralson County schools, I know firsthand that a sense of safety is essential to a healthy learning environment.”
Mixon said the sheriff’s department has worked in coordination with school administrators to establish protocols by which parents and guardians may be contacted in case of emergency. In addition, a school resource officer has made herself more visible inside school buildings by increasing contacts with students, and deputies have increased their patrols of school facilities.
While the county has jurisdiction over most schools in the county, the police departments of Bremen, Tallapoosa and Buchanan have also worked to enhance the sense of security at those schools within their city limits.
Bremen Police Chief Keith Pesnell said that his officers had actually gone through a training exercise that simulated an active school shooter situation just prior to the Newtown incident.
“We always try to stay up to date,” he said. “We’re very fortunate here at Bremen that we have a school resource officer … we have just somewhat upped her visibility the most we can in the schools, (and) are meeting with the school system to discuss any security issues to make sure we’re covering all the bases that we can cover.”
Tallapoosa Police Lt. David Coy said his department has been doing walk-throughs at the primary school within its jurisdiction.
“We’re out there one or two times a day, as long as we have somebody available and not answering calls,” he said.
He added that the principal of the primary school is in the process of setting up a safety board, a member of which will be a Tallapoosa police officer. “We’re going to come up with an emergency action plan and different kinds of safety measures that we can implement,” he said.
Buchanan Police Chief Tracy Lambert said his department is putting an officer at each school “to welcome students in the morning (and) to make the parents feel a little bit safer.”
In addition, he said, officers are walking through the primary and elementary school within his jurisdiction as a means of increasing police presence at the schools. He also said he plans to meet soon with Stanton to discuss more security ideas, such as adding surveillance cameras on school property that can be monitored from the police department.
“We’re going to do a complete assessment of both schools to determine where our strong points are and our vulnerabilities are; things like that,” said Lambert, noting that he and Lt. Keith Pike of his department have both served as school resource officers.
All the police officers contacted said these new school patrols are stretching the department’s manpower. But all are making a priority of the students’ needs. Lt. Coy said he hoped grant money could be found to at least partially pay for added security. Chief Lambert said that administrative officers are being used to supplement the nine patrol personnel his department has to station at schools.
As Bremen’s Chief Pesnell noted: “Our kids are our Number One priority to take care of, so we don’t take that lightly.”