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January 23. 2013 10:57PM

Keene police to make school visits a daily activity

KEENE - Police and school officials announced a new collaboration this week in increasing school safety.

Shortly after the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, Keene School District Safety Committee members came together to discuss increasing school safety, said SAU 29 Superintendent Wayne Woolridge.

The committee has always included police and fire department representation, he said.

As a result of the ongoing discussion that started in December, Police Chief Kenneth Meola and Capt. Brian Costa approached the school district on Jan. 20 with a proposal to add school campus visits to the regular daytime patrol duties.

The school district gladly accepted the offer, Woolridge said.

"They are in the area. These are places they would be driving by and we're just really happy we can be part of their willingness to come into our schools and be with us," Woolridge said.

Since Keene High School already has a school resource officer on campus that school is not included, Costa said.

But that leaves six other city schools, the five elementary schools and Keene Middle School.

The police visits to schools would randomly fall at any time in the school day, when the officer has time, but would be every day, Costa said.

A visit could come in many different forms, he said. An on-duty patrol officer could drop by, say hello to administrators in the front office, walk down a hallway, perhaps talk to students or even have lunch at the school occasionally.

There are three officers on duty in the morning, then at noon a fourth officer is added to the daytime patrol, Costa said. This is not adding any resources to the department, just adding a task for the daytime patrol officers that already include responding to calls for service and traffic and downtown beat patrols, he said.

"There is just a myriad of activities that we ask them to do," Costa said. "We have a lot of faith in our officers, and we're asking them to work this into their day. We think its going to be a positive."

"Obviously part of it is to ease some of the concerns from the staff and the children as well," he said, but it's also a great opportunity to "go back in time to when a police officer interacting with kids seemed to happen more often than it does know."

Woolridge said the new arrangement is a win-win for the schools and police.

Talks have already begun with some of the private schools in Keene, including St. Joseph Regional School, to include them in the patrols as well, Costa said.

So far the private schools are welcoming, but including those schools would double the amount of visits in a day so that may not be possible on a daily basis, he said.

mpierce@newstote.com


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