On a police department level, technological advances have been made as well by the implementation of an emergency lock-down button. A single button at a manned work station allows staff to remotely lock all the doors and alert the teachers of a problem. “Whenever we have a dangerous situation, we notify dispatch and they notify the front counter and they can lock the doors and wait for us to give an all clear,” states Harman. “So for the police department, as a partner in keeping the kids safe that’s a tremendous advantage for us to have.”
Stretch the money
The biggest advantage to the SOS grant is the ability for school districts and police departments to make local funding go further. “It’s gotten us equipment that we couldn’t have afforded otherwise,” states Perry. “It’s helped us crystallize and focus on the needs. When you go through the process of writing a grant, you look at the safety concerns and it gives you a way to focus your thoughts and needs.” Many agencies met the 50-percent match with local funds and the grants allowed them to double their money. “They said they had already planned to do a limited amount of security work at some of the schools but if we got COPS grant funding, we could actually finish some projects rather than cut corners on them,” says Harman. Unfortunately, not every department can meet the match. In fact, Olathe did not apply in 2011 because it could not afford to.
Another benefit to the SOS grant is the partnership opportunity between the district and the local law enforcement agency. “There is a collaborative effort,” states Graniewski. “The grant is for the school district but without them having 700 MHz radios, we can’t communicate very well with them. We already have a strong relationship with the district. Being able to communicate very rapidly is the key.” The video equipment set up in Henry County schools has been helpful for law enforcement investigations. “Our goal is to promote an ongoing relationship with the school,” explains Harman. “We want to be good partners with them. We want good communication and quick access to the facilities and we’re well on our way to doing that.”
Even with the difficult match requirement, many agencies applaud the COPS office for assisting with improved safety and security in schools. Perry explains how the grant acted as the seed money for many projects, but the agency was able to maintain and improve on the technology after the initial funding ran out. Partnerships are strengthened and local funds go further in a time when money is particularly tight for districts and law enforcement. “We feel that the schools are as safe as they can be,” explains Perry. “Anything that is an issue in the community is an issue in the schools, and anything in the schools becomes a community issue.”
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. She worked for the Phoenix (Ariz.) PD for almost eight years and in 2010, she earned her master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University.