CATAWISSA RR - Southern Columbia Area's effort to partner with local police forces has provided a safer environment for students, teachers and faculty over the last 15 months, officials said.

Locust Township police officers are frequently on the district campus and often enter the school to meet with staff and students and do routine paperwork. The relationship will culminate at the end of this school year with an active shooter simulation.

"What we're trying to do is work us into their (police) routine, to increase their presence without additional expenses, and to enhance the feeling of security," Superintendent Paul Caputo said. "We're looking for ways to make them more and more a part of our community."

It's an opportunity to form relationships and see the police officers in a different light, said board President Mike Yeager.

"People in general will feel more comfortable if they have an understanding of who the police are, and not just their badge," he said.

Face with a name

Locust Township Police Chief Allen Breach said it's not about disrupting the educational environment, but giving the students and staff "a face with the name" and building rapport.

Southern has a Memorandum of Understanding with Locust Township, meaning they are the responding unit in cases of emergencies, but Ralpho Township and Catawissa borough police stations have a strong presence as well, Caputo said.

Locust Township officers park outside the school and use the laptops in their cruisers to get some "paperwork" done or access records, or use meeting rooms in the school for the same work. But it's not on a strict schedule, Breach said.

They also do frequent patrols.

"It gives more of a presence in case something does happen," he said.

Security for students and staff is important, but it's also about building a level of trust so people are more comfortable approaching officers with information or tips, Breach said.

Simulation plans

He's not sure yet what the simulation will entail, whether it will be a full-fledged drill or a mini training session for officers from his or the Ralpho and Catawissa departments.

Caputo said no students will be involved in this initial drill, just staff members and emergency responders.

"It will serve police forces so they have an actual facility, and it will get advice to teachers on the best way to move students, how to best protect themselves," he said.

Officers will be firing blank rounds, he noted.

The simulation will take place during the last week of school on an in-service day, Caputo said.

Police have floorplans

Southern has also taken other efforts in the wake of Sandy Hook and other school shootings.

All local police departments have blueprints and floorplans of the school buildings, and they frequently walk the campus.

"Officers have been routinely stopping into the school on their off-shifts to take a walk through the school and familiarize themselves with the layout, and to provide extra eyes and ears," Breach said.

They also have keys to access all buildings, and they patrol at any hour, day or night, Caputo said. The district has a monthly safety meeting, and police sometimes attend.

Additional cameras have been installed in the elementary, and more are on the way, he said.

Also, doors have been numbered to help in case of an emergency.

Armed staff?

The board and administrators have also been discussing having an armed staff member in the school at all times.

If that's a direction the district moves, Caputo said that person must have training and be licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

"I'm to the point where I'm OK with that concept as long as we have the right people who can handle that responsibility," he said.

All options are being considered, Breach noted.

"What is needed? What does the community want? The staff? The parents?" he said.

Caputo likes what has happened thus far.

"We're very thankful for their (police) efforts without a doubt," he said. "Their willingness to help and serve the school community is very important."