PURCHASE, N.Y. – Awareness and collaboration in Westchester County is key to prevent a school shooting like the one that occurred in Newtown, Conn., according to William Bratton, a former New York City police commissioner, and several school safety experts.
Hundreds of police, fire, government and school officials from throughout Westchester attended the School Safety Symposium on Wednesday morning at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, SUNY, to learn how to prevent such an incident and how to handle one if it happens.
“Partnership is all about what is happening here today,” Bratton said in his keynote speech. “School administrators cannot solve the problem of school safety in their silo. Police cannot solve it in their silo. Fire and emergency response people cannot solve it in theirs, and the parents of the children that we are all obligated to protect cannot do it on their own. If you think you can, we’re doomed to failure. Efforts to prevent violence are enhanced when working together.”
To prevent a shooting, people must understand the “behaviors and the indicators that may be observed that forewarn of a threat and do something about it,” Bratton said. He added that there were warning signs before the shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Safety experts including retired Scarsdale Police Officer Matthew Miraglia, retired U.S. Secret Service agent Charles Boklan and Westchester County Department of Public Safety Chief Inspector John Hodges delivered presentations. They included emergency preparedness for schools, how to asses a student threat in a school and the police response to an incident at a school.
Miraglia urged all school officials in the audience to hire a security company to complete a risk assessment of their schools, which would help identify strengths and vulnerabilities and lead to short- and long-term recommendations.
He, along with Bratton, said school officials must practice emergency drills and receive the proper training to be prepared for such an incident.
While each of the experts said the chances of a school shooting are slight, they all agreed that preparedness is of the utmost importance.
“We cannot remain static in a dynamic world,” Hodges said. “We must learn to expect the unexpected. If we don’t, schools might still be considered soft targets.”
The symposium also featured a panel discussion that included Harrison Central School District Superintendent Louis Wool, County Executive Rob Astorino, FBI Special Agent Maryann Goldman, Detective Martin Greenberg of the Mount Pleasant Police Department and other school officials.
Wool said fortifying schools is likely not possible, but stronger communities can help prevent school shootings.
“There were members of that community [Newtown] who were aware that there was a young man basically closeted away in a basement, who had never been able to integrate into the culture, and yet nobody felt the responsibility to challenge that parent, to engage their neighbor, to contact Child Protective Services, to raise questions consistently, because that makes us uncomfortable,” Wool said.
“The concept of community and collaboration starts with every single individual in the collective community caring about everybody’s kid, not just their own.”
Pelham Police Chief Joseph Benefico said the event was interesting and he took a lot good ideas out of it.
“Obviously a lot of follow-up with the school district,” Benefico said. “Everybody said it’s a collaboration and it’ll be a fluid process. We’re going to keep learning and developing plans and working with the district, and we’ll put it all together – everybody work together to do our best.”