Easton officials address question, "How can another Sandy Hook be prevented?"
What does it take to prevent another Sandy Hook from happening?
For Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., "It takes a village" to prevent a tragedy like the one at the Connecticut school where 20 students and six others were shot and killed in December.
During Tuesday evening's Easton City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, officials discussed this "village" needed to stop future school and other violence in its tracks, from improved school security and better staff training to the critical roles local non-profits and individual community members play in identifying and helping young people who may be at-risk for committing violence before they act.
The Public Safety Committee meeting was held as a precursor to a community-wide anti-violence forum Panto is organizing in conjunction with school district and other officials that will be held at Easton Area High School in late-February or early-March.
The committee meeting included input from city officials, police, school district officials and representatives of local non-profits such as the Easton Area Community Center and Weed & Seed program.
One immediate action that has been taken since Sandy Hook is an increased presence by Easton police at the city's three elementary schools.
Easton Police Lt. John Remaley said officers make regular, random visits to these schools. During these checks, officers walk the halls, allowing them to become more familiar with the building layout, while getting to know staff and students. Police have also been parking marked units outside the school as a deterrent to any possible wrongdoing.
Remaley said police's stepped-up presence has been "very well received by the school district."
Easton school officials said they are planning to hold a walk-through with the the three police departments within the district (Easton, Palmer, Forks), in an effort to decide future efforts related to improving safety.
While no final decisions have been made, options being considered at Easton schools include installing more cameras and limiting access points.
Panto, a former teacher, made several suggestions during Tuesday's committee meeting, including asking the district to show a video entitled "Run, Hide, Fight" to staff and upper-grade level students. He said this short video shows how classrooms can be quickly barricaded during an active shooting and how something like a fire extinguisher can be used as a weapon to fight back.
Officials acknowledged security and training are only a part of preventing school violence.
City Councilman Jeff Warren noted the importance of helping troubled students before they act out violently.
"We have to reach children before they become victims of violent crimes or perpetrators of violent crimes," he stated.
Warren said school counseling is a critical component, along with the services of local nonprofits such as the Easton Area Community Center and Weed & Seed program.
Anita Mitchell, executive director of the Easton Area Community Center, said the center currently serves about 75 children per day. Many of the kids served by the center, she said, "need a sense of family" that is so often lacking in their lives, from having absentee parents to not knowing where their next meal will come from.
Meanwhile, the Weed & Seed initiative focuses on "weeding" out the violent offenders in high-crime areas and then "seeding" the neighborhood with prevention, intervention, treatment and revitalization services.
Even with the work of these non-profits, Panto said more is needed. "Many neighborhoods are bankrupt of role models," he said, noting that a city program to rehab dilapidated homes and build new homes in existing neighborhoods is creating affordable home ownership opportunities for hard-working families. "Bringing in these kinds of families will change neighborhoods one home at at time," the mayor said.
Panto said the upcoming forum will address what he calls today's "culture of violence," including extremely violent video games many children are exposed to young ages.
"Schools are receiving the by-product of a violent society whose children are growing up with no regard for life."
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