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School safety initiative garners attention of Sandy Hook group

SALEM — An idea to keep Salem schools safer, developed by police school resource officer Matthew Norcross, is attracting attention.

Norcross suggested placing older, unused police radios in each of the district’s schools so the schools would have immediate and direct contact with police in the event of a potential shooting or other emergency.

The schools were equipped with burglar alarms and panic buttons, but Norcross said there is a delay because the emergency calls are filtered through the alarm company and then to the police dispatch center.

“It’s not good to have any kind of delay in a critical situation,” said Norcross. “The most important thing is time.”

School officials approved the use of the old police radios in the schools. Norcross helped draft a protocol for their use and helped program them so they would be easy for the school officials to use.

The radios are programmed with a panic button that goes straight through to the police department. All police personnel with radios are also able to immediately hear any communication from the schools.

In addition to giving the schools a direct line to the police, the radios are programmed to receive signals only from Salem police.

Norcross said this gives the schools the ability to listen into what is going on with the police department and hear if there are any potential issues in the community.

While there are some other school districts around the country that have used police radios, Norcross said the Salem program is fairly unique because the radios and the panic buttons are to be used only for life-threatening situations.

Since the school district approved the proposal at the end of the 2012-13 school year, Norcross said he has spoken to a number of other departments and organizations that are interested in the idea.

In April, Norcross met with Michelle Gay, one of the founders of Safe and Sound Securing Our Schools: A Sandy Hook Initiative, and shared the Salem initiative. Gay is the mother of Josephine Grace, one of the victims of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“I was thrilled with her reaction,” said Norcross.

Gay said she loved the idea of having police radios in the schools and asked to share it on her website,