As your Sheriff, as a father, and as the husband of a Hanover County Public Schools employee, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. I am heartbroken by the loss of so many innocent lives, and I mourn deeply for the victims and their loved ones. As a law enforcement professional, I am moved by the humanity, professional skill, and courage of the Sandy Hook staff and first responders.
This tragedy has captivated the nation’s attention for several weeks now. There have been heartfelt speeches made by national, state, and local officials, as well as community leaders, calling for change. There have also been passionate position statements and letters supported by many national and state organizations outlining the need for preventative steps moving forward.
School-based violence such as this illustrates a dimension of the work law enforcement professionals may be expected to perform. Tragedy in our schools is unfathomable and, as a father, I have always felt that my children were safest while in our Hanover schools. This has not changed – I continue to feel that our children are safest while they are in our schools as opposed to being in an unsupervised setting. I personally know the teachers and staff and am aware of their security protocols, training and professionalism. Yet, as we saw at Sandy Hook Elementary and other locations around the state and country, tragedy is possible anywhere. Preparation and partnerships will be critical while, as a community, we plan together what our next steps should be.
Since the tragedy in Newtown, I have received numerous calls from those wishing to put full-time officers in every school. I have also spoken with those who want to arm school administrators and teachers, and even students. I have even heard comments from those desiring to repeal the Second Amendment “right to bear arms.” Understandably, much of this is emotionally driven and a natural reaction to such horrific events. However, the common theme is that we are all in search for answers and desire to create an environment where our children can be safe.
The safety of our children is not a new topic for the Hanover Sheriff’s Office. For over 20 years, we have been an active partner with our school system. This partnership not only is a component of our mission statement but has been recognized nationally as the example. This has led to many innovative and time-tested operational processes. One example is our Youth Services Unit, which actively provides a uniformed presence in many of our schools and annually completes assessments and evaluations designed to look for better ways to enhance the services to our children and schools. This ongoing partnership and presence is a service I pledge to continue.
As federal and state task forces look for answers and as our communities partner with us to serve together, I hope that professionalism and common sense will reign. I hope we will be ever-mindful of the impact our actions will have on our children as we continue to search for better ways of creating safe learning environments while still preserving the liberties we embrace as a free nation. On a much larger scale, I also hope that we will pause to consider the safety of our children beyond the school walls, where they spend the remaining 18 out of 24 hours of their day at home or in the community.
There are so many questions that can be raised, but I believe that when we are speaking about the safety of our children, we are also speaking about the health of our community, and our charge is to tend to both. With our focus on the community as well as our schools, a balance of complementary priorities must be met. It is widely believed that Newtown, Conn. was a safe and secure community. However, it serves as a harsh reminder that tragedy can strike anywhere. As such, we cannot be complacent and must explore the best options to provide the safest environment for our children.
These are the conversations we have had with our schools and our community for many years. These are the conversations we need to continue as we go forward. How do we continue to enhance the safety and security of our children, in our schools, at home and in our community? I believe these sorts of questions will lead us to examine the deeper issues of community and the positive impact of partnerships.
As we begin the New Year, I hope we can heal from this tragedy and learn from it so that such an event never occurs in our community. We can all play an important role in making this hope a reality. I know you join me in sending condolences, prayers, and love to our fellow citizens and the families in Newtown and, like me, are dedicated to helping shape the path forward.