Part of a series of articles on what local schools and towns are doing after the Newtown shootings.
As parents are thinking about school safety in the wake of the Newtown shootings, Park Ridge Police Department Commander Lou Jogmen said police train and communicate on a continuous basis to maintain safety.
Officers maintain a presence at schools at arrival and departure times, partly for traffic control and partly as a visible safety reminder, he said. And the department encourages officers to stop by at schools throughout the day and maintain relationships with school personnel.
Earlier: Niles police plan safety audit of schools
The department has full-time officers stationed at both Maine South and Maine East high schools, part of Maine Township High School District 207.
"If we have any opportunity to prevent (an incident), those officers are going to be the ones to do it," Jogmen said. "They may have heard some information about someone who has made a comment."
If a student or teacher had a feeling that someone might become violent, Jogmen stressed they need to come forward and tell police.
"We go with 'If you know something or think something, say something,'" he said. "We'd much rather investigate suspicious incidents that don't pan out than take the risk of ignoring something."
Police are required by the state to participate in lockdown drills with schools, and Jogmen said the department did two on Wednesday.
"That's an ongoing thing, to test the efficiency of lockdown procedures," he said. "We work with them (schools) on changing what needs changing."
Police also get training on what to do in the event of an incident at a school.
Before the Columbine High School tragedy, police were trained to set up staging areas outside the school. That changed post-Columbine, Jogmen said, with police squads now equipped with helmets, shields and rifles in order to enter a scene.
"We train with line level officers to engage without having to wait for a SWAT team," Jogmen said. "We can use specific techniques to neutralize a threat. That's been the biggest change that's happened."
People encouraged to text tips (but not in emergencies)
If students, teachers or others have a feeling that someone could turn violent, Jogmen said they can which identifies it as a message for the Park Ridge-Des Plaines area.
An earlier Patch story cautioned that that's not for emergencies that need immediate attention; for those, call 911. But the texting program works well for ongoing problems that need investigation by police. The program is routed through a third-party vendor which hides the identities of texters so they can remain anonymous.
"A year ago, a kid was texting with someone who said they were thinking about suicide. We were able to intercede and get help," Jogmen said, citing one of the success stories.
Communicating with schools
Jogmen said police meet approximately every other month with school administrators.
"We'll have regular discussions with them about target-hardening (making it more difficult for intruders to enter schools, often by introducing locked doors or other barriers), what they can do," Jogmen said.
However, schools do have to let students, teachers and other come in for legitimate reasons.
"We have to look at school facilities, but people do have to come in," Jogmen said. "Parents have to drop off lunches. But you do the best you can to secure it."