Tacoma schools and police partner to ensure school safety



Superintendent Carla Santorno

With more and more school violence occurring in recent weeks across the country, officials at Tacoma Public Schools say there is a heightened sense of awareness and concern for ensuring the safety of students.

“School safety is something we talk about and work on every single day,” said Dan Voelpel, director of communications at Tacoma Public Schools. “We look at these things all the time.”

An ongoing campaign that the school district, in partnership with the Tacoma Police Department, will be promoting is “see something, say something.”

Nora Turner, a campus security officer (CSO) at Oakland High School, enjoys a good laugh with a student between classes. Plainclothes CSOs, in partnership with armed school resource officers, develop positive relationships with students and create a sense of safety at schools.

“That is something we’re stressing out in the public and through the police department,” Voelpel said. “We really want to rally our community behind that. If you see something or hear something about a threat to a school, then call 911. The police department has made a commitment to investigate those calls as soon as they receive them.”

A secondary approach will be to continue to find ways to harden the school facilities by making physical improvements.

Last week, Superintendent Carla Santorno made a policy directive to expedite access control systems for schools that don’t have line of sight from the main office to the entrance.

“We’re looking into systems that have video and buzzers to keep front doors to schools locked during the school day,” Voelpel said. “People who arrive at the front door can speak to an office professional over the speaker and then once approved the office professional can buzz them in. Right now, we’re working on getting some bids on those types of systems. The police department is currently identifying what kind of schools would benefit.”

The police department will also look at other recommendations to improving the safety of schools, to include rebuilding entrances to some schools. These recommendations, along with recommendations made by a separate contractor regarding schools with age and deterioration that need renovation, will be part of a school construction bond package put before voters in November 2019.

“We hope to have community meetings in the fall to present proposals,” Voelpel said.

Lt. Chris Travis, the police department lead, said the department is in the process of establishing a committee charged with the responsibility of inspecting school facilities and making recommendations. The committee will be comprised of active shooter instructors, tactical office members of the SWAT team, police officers, a facilities expert, and a representative from Tacoma Public Schools.

“One of the issues is every school is different,” Travis said. “There is no single layout or general building design for each of the facilities. We’re going to create a committee that will go out and evaluate and provide recommendations on best practices and industry standards.”

Travis said the committee will evaluate facilities only when occupied.

“This is so we understand the needs of each place,” he said. “We want to do a good job and provide meaningful recommendations and help the school district decide on the priorities.”


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