East Providence Police review procedures in response to recent school tragedy

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EAST PROVIDENCE — In a move meant to review and improve existing procedures regarding the security of schools in city, the East Providence Police Department Tuesday, Dec. 18, announced a comprehensive inquiry of its protocols.

The announcement, made by Patrol Division Commander Captain Christopher Parella, unexpectedly came on the same day as a security threat was reported at East Providence High School. A student alleged spotting a peer with what was thought to be rifle. Upon a near two-hour examination of the building, police deemed the threat to have been false.

“We felt the threat was credible at the time,” Capt. Parella explained. “The school went into a lockdown. We searched every room, every locker, every inch of the building. We reviewed security cameras, took every precaution. We were impressed today. Every procedure we had in place worked well.”

Tuesday’s incident coincided with what Capt. Parella said was a planned announcement of the East Providence Police Department’s response strategies to similar events in the wake of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14.

EPPD Lieutenant Raymond Blinn has been appointed to a supervisory role and will conduct the review along with Community Policing Sergeant John Andrews, the department’s Community Policing officers, Community Relations officer and the Student Relations Officers already positioned in schools.

“There is no more trusted, intelligent employee in this department than Ray,” Capt. Parella said of Lt. Blinn.

Lt. Blinn will work with the school department and the EPPD’s community policing division to determine if current tactical procedures need to be overhauled and if any new dictates need to be put in place as a means of ensuring the safety and well-being of students and personnel in the city’s 11 (8 elementary, 2 middle and 1 high school) school buildings as well as its other private and parochial schools.

The EPPD already indicated it would increase the number of patrol rides around the city’s schools after the Newtown tragedy, which had a lone gunman murder 26 young students and personnel at an elementary school.

“The shooting obviously raised a lot of awareness. A lot of people are on edge, nervous,” Capt. Parella said. “We think here in East Providence we’re in pretty good shape in terms of our procedures, but nothing is perfect.

“We are going to conduct a comprehensive review of all the Catholic, private and public schools in the city and we’re going to focus on three areas.”

1. Existing security measures will be reviewed. “We want to make sure we’re adhering to what is already in place,” Capt. Parella said. “We want to make sure our ‘Code Red’ procedures work, especially concerning interior and exterior door locks. We want input from everyone involved, from the janitors to principals to teachers.”

2. New recommendations will be sought. “We’re already considering a tint for windows, a thin film that’s being used by the security industry. It’s cost effective. You would put it on entry doors and other areas. You can break the glass, but it doesn’t shatter. We’re looking at adding cameras, a lot of different things.”

3. “Code Red” protocols will be reviewed. “It’s a system developed after the Columbine (high school) shooting (in 1999). It’s for any kind of threats, any type of problems with other students or people trying to enter the building. Teachers and students are instructed to lock doors, get away from the doors and windows. Schools are supposed to drill semi-annually, at least. But it seems like we’ve fallen off a bit with the number of drills. We need to get back to doing the drills on a more regular basis.”

The EPPD has a long-standing procedure in place, “Active Shooter Response,” a tactic allowing responding officers to initiate the take-down of gun perpetrators at first contact. The policy was also one formulated by many police departments across the country following the Columbine massacre.

“We’re happy with where we are. We think we’re in a good place in terms of security in comparison to other school districts of our size. The school department, working with us, has done a good job staying on top of these issues,” Capt. Parella said.

He continued, “But we want to take this opportunity while it’s fresh in everybody’s minds. We don’t want to let what just happened pass without doing a good, comprehensive review of how we would respond to a similar situation.”

Capt. Parella stressed EPPD Chief Joseph Tavares has provided his full backing to his division’s efforts on the matter.

“The chief has given us his complete support. He’s totally on board with this. He wants us to conduct a constant and comprehensive review of our school security,” Capt. Parella added.

Besides the committee guided by Lt. Blinn, Capt. Parella said Wayne Barnes, the city’s director of emergency management, and Dr. John DeGoes, interim school superintendent, will also be asked for input on the matter.

He expects to have a report with updates, revisions and recommendations within six to eight weeks, though he doesn’t want to interfere in the process by installing artificial deadlines.

“I would think we’ll get something done within a month or two, but we’re in no rush. We feel comfortable enough with what we already have in place. We’re under no time constraints,” Capt. Parella concluded. “We want to get this done, but more importantly we want to get it done right.”

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