After Conn. shooting, police, schools step up security at Niles, Maine schools
Mike Luehr, a 14-year veteran of the Park Ridge police department, has been Maine South High School's resource officer for the last six years. Luehr graduated from Maine South in 1991. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 1:17AM
The tragic and shocking school shooting in Connecticut has led to heightened awareness and security at local schools.
“We’re trying to step up a little patrol,“ said Niles Police Chief Dean Strzelecki, about having additional marked and unmarked police cars at the schools throughout the year.
The Niles Police department will also be conducting audits at the schools that choose to participate in the audits. Strzelecki said they will be sending actors to the schools to attempt to breach the school’s security system.
“Right now it’s heightened security everywhere,” said Strzelecki, who said that the audits should be completed by May.
“I can’t put a cop at every school,” shared Strzelecki. “I just don’t have the resources for that.”
“We’ve contracted with a couple of different companies to evaluate the security system we have in place,” said Park Ridge-Niles Dist. 64 Supt. Philip Bender. He said the evaluation will be of the school’s security cameras and communication system, for example.
At a recent committee-of-the-whole meeting, a concerned parent said that he felt the distance from the main entrance to the office at one of the Dist. 64 elementary schools was too long. Bender thanked the parent for his comment and assured him they are taking steps to make sure the kids are safe at school.
“That’s our number one charge,” said Bender. “To make sure our kids are safe.”
Bender said it is important the doors are locked at the right time and that people who are buzzed in get to the office.
After the tragic Connecticut shooting, Bender said that they have had just a few comments from parents.
“Many were very supportive of our efforts,” said Bender.
Bender said that since the shooting in Connecticut they have been making sure the pieces of the school’s security plan are in place and are being adhered to.
“Everything we are doing now, we were doing prior to that,” said Park Ridge Deputy Chief Lou Jogmen.
“We’re really proactive,” said Jogmen.
Jogmen explained that they have school resource officers at both Maine South High School and Maine East High School.
“By being in the school, they are a visible presence,” said Jogmen. “They are on site and can react and respond to everything quickly. They have their finger on their pulse of what’s going on in school.”
In addition, Jogmen said that they have made a concerted effort to have officers at grade schools and high schools during drop-off and pick-up times.
“It demonstrates to anyone paying attention that the police are at the schools a lot,” said Jogmen.
Jogmen said that the officers are trained in rapid response techniques, so they can be a mini squad team and neutralize the situation. He said that in the Columbine shooting that wasn’t the case and police officers had to wait for a squad team to arrive on the scene.
Jogmen explained that they also conduct lockdown drills, which are mandated by the state.
There was an active shooter drill at Maine South High School as well, explained David Beery, director of communications for Maine Township High Schools Dist. 207.
“We do a lot continuously,” said Beery. “We are always going to be assessing and evaluating and considering whether there are additional steps to take.”
Every two months, police and fire departments in Park Ridge and Niles meet with officials from Dist. 64 and talk about various safety issues, including various potential situations, such as strangers talking with students on their way to school.
“The schools are pretty attuned to what they need to do,” noted Strzelecki.
Bender said he encourages community members to also be aware of what’s going on around the school and appreciates their input on security and safety issues.