Commonwealth Journal

January 31, 2013

Somerset City Councilor concerned about school safety

By HEATHER TOMLINSON
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last month is still in the minds of many — including one city official who is looking for ways to further ensure local students’ safety. 
Somerset City Councilor Jimmy Eastham during Monday’s city council meeting asked whether the city could add to already existing safety measures for schools.
“I’ve been thinking along the lines of maybe doing a little bit of checking or getting some thoughts and ideas from the police department, school personnel, to see if there’s anything that we maybe should be doing that we’re not,” said Eastham. “I know a lot of things aren’t possible ... especially money-speaking this day and time, and manpower.”
Somerset and other communities across the nation have been examining the safety of their schools since the national tragedy, which took place on Dec. 14. According to authorities, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that day and killed 26 people — 20 of them young students — before turning his weapon on himself. 
A community vigil even led Modern Systems, Inc. owner David Morris to install panic alarm systems in every school building in the county at no cost to the school districts. The council recognized Morris’ efforts in a council meeting earlier this month. 
Currently, local authorities have resource officers who patrol the schools. Somerset Police Department has continued its active shooter training program, even carrying out an exercise soon after the Sandy Hook shootings. The exercise had been in the planning stages since before the tragedy took place. 
“We’re not strangers to school security,” said Councilor Jim Rutherford, a former SPD officer. 
Rutherford said SPD established its active shooter training program after the shootings at Columbine High School, which took place more than a decade ago. 
Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the Littleton, Colo. school on April 20, 1999 and killed 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves. 
“We’re above-ground as far as other counties go and cities as well, (but) we can do more,” Rutherford said. 
Jimmy Eastham wondered whether the resource officer program is “covering our bases.”
“I’d like for each council member to give it some thought, and maybe at a little bit later date, if someone had some ideas ... I think we need to look into it,” Eastham said. 
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said he would look into inviting local superintendents to an upcoming city council work session that will be open to the public to talk about school safety “and any other issues you may have that’s relevant to the school system so we may better serve them.”
Girdler suggested that the council consider opening a dialogue with local schools by sitting down with district representatives regularly to discuss school issues. 
In other news from Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting:
• Councilors said several streetlights in the city limits were in need of replacing. 
• Councilor Tom Eastham said motorists are traveling too fast on Langdon and Bogle streets, located near the hospital, and suggested that SPD send patrol units to the area for a bit to enforce traffic laws. Tom Eastham said a similar action by SPD last year helped keep motorists speed down and reminded them to obey traffic protocol at four-way and three-way stops.