BALOG COLUMN: Police plan could mean safer schools, communities
It's hard to find fault with the plan to hire more police officers to patrol around Charleston schools, especially when you consider what happened this week at Ashley Hall.
A woman points a weapon at school faculty. Thankfully, the weapon didn't fire and nobody was injured.
The police got there quickly. But if the proposal for more police had been in place, more of them would have gotten there faster. And that's basically the point.
Instead of putting officers in the school buildings, city officials want an emergency tax increase to place 19 officers in patrol zones or clusters of elementary schools throughout the city. There would have been two other officers in the cluster that includes Ashley Hall, which means there would have been three officers responding.
“It's not possible to have your best response when you have one or two officers coming in from multiple areas,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Tuesday.
But this plan goes beyond patrols.
“It provides a lot of flexibility to redeploy resources without jeopardizing the safety and security of the community.”
Three steps to safety
Deterrence, detection and delay would be the officers' main objectives, in that order.
Deterrence could eventually include things like suggesting security changes to the school-building structures themselves. Detection is about building relationships with the community surrounding the schools, which would help them delay any possible threats by identifying potential problems early.
At least, that's the theory.
Improving school security is something the city takes seriously. Just two weeks ago, the police were at Ashley Hall conducting a lockdown drill, Mullen said — and it helped. But if the proposed plan had been in place, three officers assigned to the zone with Ashley Hall would have been on scene even faster, Mullen said.
This is part of a larger sea change at schools, Mullen said. The days of stopping by unannounced are probably coming to an end. “We may have to accept some inconveniences,” he said.
Inconvenience and $40 a year seem like a small price for increased school safety.
Of course, the tax increase isn't just about schools. It includes hiring eight additional officers for around The Market and King Street areas, what the city calls the “entertainment district” and what others might uncharitably describe as the drunken district. “There's a lot of energy there,” Mullen noted rather diplomatically.
Officers are being diverted from other communities to deal with issues that escalate near the bars and restaurants, especially at closing time.
The thing that might make this tax increase a tough sell is the fire department funding. New stations, more firefighters and equipment are surely needed. Firefighters do a lot more than fight fires, and the cops do a lot more than arrest people. Does all that belong under the umbrella of an emergency tax increase?
City Council members are about to find out how much public safety is worth to their constituents.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.