BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
NORTH SALT LAKE — North Salt Lake City’s police chief stopped in at public schools in the city on Monday, anxious to keep the lines of communication open in light of Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut.
“The community realizes that the schools and the police departments are in a long-time partnership with each other,” said Craig Black, North Salt Lake police chief.
“I felt like because of what’s happened that I wanted the principals to know that the police administration is aware of their cares and their concerns,” he said.
Many who work with children and teachers in schools were taking extra care to ensure children feel safe when at school, after a gunman took the lives of innocent children and teachers at a school in Newtown last Friday.
“We hope there’s been some discussion with parents involving it,” said Chris Williams, community relations director for Davis School District.
“Our counselors are always looking for students who may feel a little distress,” he said. “If that’s the case, our principals and our teachers can encourage students to go to the office to talk to the school psychologist, and they’ll help them through some of their fears.”
School leaders are working to be as prepared as possible as they go about the business of educating children in a safe environment, said Black during his visit to Foxboro Elementary. “One thing I am asking schools and parents to communicate to us is this kind of threatening pre-behavior,” he said.
Any who see suspicious or threatening activities around the neighborhood should report them to police, said Black.
“They’re not bugging us by calling us,” he said. “You never really know if you’re preventing something.”
Williams also emphasized being aware.
“If you have 800 students in your school, their 800 sets of eyes are a fabulous resource,” he said.
To help keep students safe, signs are posted on all school doors directing visitors to check in at the office.
That wouldn’t have stopped the Connecticut incident, and with the many who come and go for programs and conferences, it doesn’t provide absolute prevention.
“We inherently welcome people into our schools,” said Williams. “The question, of course, is to what degree do we want to lock those schools down so that we don’t have a welcoming environment.”
Schools regularly have safety drills for fires, earthquakes and intruders, he said.
Schools have cameras and, most importantly, all those eyes.
“It’s a case of we all have to play a part,” said Williams.
If students report any unusual activity or conversations, it can help make that school campus a safe place. He cautioned that watching news related to the tragedy on cable channels 24-7 can make it hard for children.
“We can’t put ourselves in a place where we’re scared to live life,” he said.
Dr. Adam Schwebach, director of the Neuropsychology Center of Utah in Clinton, said he isn’t sure why these kinds of severe, violent acts by a younger generation have become so frequent in the United States.
“We need to better understand what drives this behavior,” said Schwebach.
“It’s not something that can be solved by controlling guns or getting rid of violent video games,” he said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to stand up to and say that we won’t tolerate this type of behavior.”
Just because someone is mentally ill doesn’t mean he or she will commit violent crime, he said.
Medication management or supportive counseling from a mental health specialist are critical to make sure they overcome their condition, he said.
For parents concerned about their children’s exposure to the violent events, he also emphasized limiting the time their children are accessing the media.
“We don’t have to continue to expose our children over and over to the content we see on TV,” he said.
Parents should listen to their children and talk with them to come up with solutions on how to address anxieties, Schwebach said.
“Parents need to make sure they are providing a supportive environment at home,” he said. “Home is a refuge so children can talk to them about the concerns they might be having.”