Easton officials, community leaders, discuss violence and safety
Jan 23, 2013 (The Morning Call (Allentown - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A discussion that began with school safety and ranged widely from after-school programs to video games to poverty was just the sort of icebreaker City Council member Jeff Warren wanted.
"From discussions," Warren said during council's public safety committee meeting Tuesday night, "come solutions."
Council members, Mayor Sal Panto Jr., school district officials and leaders of nonprofit groups batted around ideas and issues surrounding school safety, the culture of violence and underlying social conditions.
Warren asked school officials what sort of response the district has had to last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults in the school. Easton has had no mass shootings but recorded six homicides in 2012, the most in more than four decades.
Louis Coxe, the district's security director, said the district has not implemented anything yet but is looking far and wide for ways to make every school and every student safer. He plans to have in-depth talks with police in Easton and Forks and Palmer townships to better plan security, map schools and look at strategies to fend off shooters. He said officials are open to suggestions.
"I think [the school district] would welcome anything that anyone would want to do," Coxe said.
Easton police Lt. John Remaley said officers have stepped up patrols near the three elementary schools in the city -- none of which has armed guards or officers posted inside -- and started random walk-throughs to better acquaint police with the schools, children and teachers. Remaley said police plan to maintain a visible but unpredictable presence near the schools.
Panto, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the group began circulating a new video about how to respond to a shooter at a school or business, and believes teachers and others could learn from it. He also asked district officials that if they put resources into schools, to start with the elementary buildings where the students are the least capable of helping themselves.
Schools aren't where the problems start, noted Laura Accetta, Easton Weed and Seed's site coordinator. She said helping kids in troubled homes, helping parents identify their children's mental health issues and getting access to treatment, along with mitigating poverty, need to be part of any solution to curbing violence.
Accetta said Weed and Seed applied for a $1 million grant to study community issues and find solutions.
Anita Mitchell, executive director of the Easton Area Community Center, said it has more than 70 kids in after-school programs and 200 playing sports, but more need assistance and today's kids live in a culture and media environment saturated with violence.
Mitchell said she sees kids turn quickly to physical force to settle petty disputes, and she thinks it is because that is what they see on television and possibly in their own neighborhoods.
Panto nodded in agreement and said one tool the city should use more is rehabbing homes and selling them to stable families, especially in areas like the West Ward and pockets of the South Side where rental units have created a transient population that might not feel a sense of ownership.
"Many neighborhoods are bankrupt of role models," Panto said. "One of the things we can do is build houses."
Panto plans for the discussion on all of these issues to continue at a community forum on violence and public safety sometime in March at Easton Area High School.
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