School officials say safety comes first

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2013

As the hostage situation that began when a man boarded a school bus yesterday and fatally shot the driver, then abducted a student, rolls on into its second day in Midland City, Ala. today, officials in Escambia County want to assure parents that all precautions are being taken to ensure their children’s safety.

Escambia County Superintendent Randall Little said Wednesday that all buses in Escambia County contain a number of safety precautions.

“All our buses have at least two cameras,” Little said. “Some have three. They are state of the art, Angeltrax digital camera systems. They are used 24 hours a day, have infrared and HD sound and pictures. They are also DVRs, so it won’t be recorded over.”

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Little said the camera system includes a front and rear camera, along with a third camera that shoots over the driver’s seat towards the door.

“Eventually all 75 of our buses will have the third camera,” he said. “We just ordered four buses last week and all of them have the third camera. In addition, each one of our bus drivers are issued link phones.”

While cameras can be deterrents, their primary function remains recording events for a later viewing; however, Little said other steps are being taken that are aimed at preventing an intruder from attempting to board a bus at all.

Currently, trespassing on a school bus is a misdemeanor, but Little said legislation that would up the crime to a felony has been introduced.

“Our current law has a loophole in it that doesn’t really effectively address trespassers on school buses,” Little said. “There has been a pre-filed bill that will take care of the loophole.”

Little said he is in favor of any legislation or policy change that will increase student safety.

“Right now, even though I haven’t read the bill, it’s something that I feel is needed,” he said, adding that safety on campus also remains a major concern for school system officials.

“We have so many older schools with so many access points, the safest way to protect is to be proactive.”

One way Little said that goal may be achieved is through regular lockdown drills, which are not currently mandatory, but give students a chance to practice what to do in the event of a violent intruder entering the campus.

“Lockdown drills have never been mandated, but we’ve always had them off and on,” Little said. “Career tech had one yesterday. I added lockdown drills around 2008.”

Little said he is also a proponent of a police presence on campuses.

“I definitely would support any legislation that would allow armed law enforcement officers on our campus as resource officers,” he said, adding the county already employs three resource officers that are Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies.

“They’re well trained and those three individuals do an excellent job,” he said.

Little also said a special meeting has been held between school officials and local law enforcement after the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Mr. Knott (assistant superintendent) gave a major presentation to the board last week. We met with every law enforcement agency in our county. We had breakout sessions where we tied the individual schools with their law enforcement agency, as well as the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department.”