Mayor Bob Filner meets with local experts on school safety

Law enforcement increasing presence at schools

SAN DIEGO - San Diego police were maintaining a higher-than-usual presence at schools Monday in response to the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children, including a 6-year-old
girl who used to live in Mira Mesa, San Diego Unified School District officials said.

Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, then went to the school and fatally shot five adults and 20 children before killing himself Friday, according to Connecticut authorities.

Since then, San Diego Unified School District police, San Diego police and community resource officers have been dropping by campuses, school police Chief Rueben Littlejohn said at a news conference that followed a meeting at City Hall.

"The collaboration has never been better," he said.

Littlejohn said his department has been working on campus security plans with the San Diego police, the county Office of Education, charter schools that operate under the district's umbrella and neighboring school districts.

"We're talking with charter schools, parochial schools; making sure that have what they need. We also want to work with after-school programs not on campus," Littlejohn said.

Within about a month, San Diego police will have the ability to monitor live video from schools, police Chief William Lansdowne said.

SDUSD police Lt. Joe Florentino showed 10News the district's communication center where video is being viewed constantly.

"One thousand cameras district-wide; our dispatchers can pull up any camera, anytime; a lot of them are pan, tilt, zoom so the dispatcher can manipulate them," Florentino said.

Littlejohn referred to how quick thinking probably saved many lives in the Connecticut shooting.

"What we're doing here in San Diego is what that school did there and that's what saved lives, that lockdown procedure," said Littlejohn.

That's somewhat comforting for parents, but not totally in a world rocked again by senseless violence.

A mother of four, Maria Cardona reflected, "In a way, yes, because I know San Diego police are watching those cameras and also we have a plan for this school, so a little confidence, yes."

The plan is being expanded to include live streaming video to squad cars and patrol officers.

Florentino said, "Any police officer on the street, on patrol will be able to pull up any camera he or she needs."

Mayor Bob Filner said he convened Monday morning's meeting because he's only been in office for two weeks and wanted know how police and school officials would handle an active shooter on a San Diego campus.

"Have we taken all the steps as a city to assure our parents that their kids are going to school safely, and assure the children that they're going to be in a safe environment," Filner said. "I wanted to make sure that we're all unified in this, that we're unified together."

The mayor said he was assured police and school officials were doing all they could -- without having to be asked.

SDUSD Superintendent Bill Kowba said about 200 counselors and psychologists were prepared to discuss the Connecticut massacre with students who wanted to talk about it. A crisis response team was standing by in case there was "a particular need at a given campus or campuses" the rest of this week.

San Diego police Assistant Chief Boyd Long said most mass killings could be stopped if people were more vigilant in reporting their suspicions to police.

"So we're really here today to reach out to the public and ask for your help," Long said. "Your help is, if you see someone, or know someone, or hear something -- say something to somebody, whether it's a school representative, the San Diego Police Department, the school police department, or through a variety of resources available to the general public."

"All of us have re-examined our current level of training and we're going to boost it up to where it may be better with lessons learned from Connecticut," said Lansdowne.

The number of emergency calls routed to SDPD dispatchers that involve someone with a psychological issue has increased 53 percent since 2008, according to Long.

Psychologist Michael Mantell said signs to watch for in other people include an inability to connect socially, a lack of acceptance of responsibility and an absence of a roadmap for life. Someone who is simply a loner is not psychologically unstable, he said.

A 24-hour crisis hotline is available at 888-724-7240.

One of the students killed in Newtown was 6-year-old Avielle Richman, a first-grader who used to live in Mira Mesa. A family blog described her cross-country move this past spring.
 

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