Code Blue security volunteers will have a presence in Fort Worth schools
FORT WORTH, Mar 09, 2013 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
New faces will join elementary school children citywide when they head back to school in August.
At each of the city's elementary schools, Code Blue resident volunteers -- the eyes and ears of the Fort Worth Police Department and a crucial tool in reducing crime -- will patrol everything from the hallways to nearby neighborhoods to make sure kids are safe.
"When our children see these faces ... they are going to be smiling with the comfort that these residents are looking out for them," Police Chief Jeff Halstead said Friday in announcing the school security initiative.
"This is a partnership venture, and it is guaranteed to be successful."
The local effort is among many safety initiatives offered by law officers and educators nationwide after a Dec. 14 mass shooting left 20 children and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Proposals in Texas and local communities have ranged from arming teachers to installing buzzers and camera systems in the main entrances of schools.
Mayor Betsy Price touted the Code Blue idea as a "creative plan" that could make people feel more comfortable about the safety of schoolchildren.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our children," she said. "I'm excited about this partnership. I truly think this is the way to go."
On Friday, Halstead, Price and Fort Worth district Superintendent Walter Dansby were joined by dozens of Code Blue members and other officials at Rosemont Elementary School for a news conference to announce the school safety plan -- one they hope can become a national model for campus security.
Halstead said the idea came to him while he was going over what happened in Connecticut.
"They had every ... precaution in place," he said. "There was nothing they didn't do right."
Then he realized that the best way to make local schools safer was to do the same thing that made the city itself safer decades ago -- encourage residents to help patrol, keep an eye on things and report any suspicious behavior, as they did when Code Blue was created.
"In trying to look at how to keep our schools safe, all we need to look at is ourselves," he said.
He said he focused on elementary schools because "we have security and safety at middle and high schools."
In the coming months, police and Code Blue members hope to attract more volunteers to help with patrols throughout the city and schools, potentially increasing the organization's size by 50 percent in the next five years.
To prepare for neighborhood patrols, volunteers already go through training that includes legal liabilities, communication, patrol procedures and the penal code. They will undergo even more training -- and background checks -- to patrol schools.
All the details should be worked out in time for the program to kick off in full force when the school year begins in August, Halstead said.
Volunteers will not carry weapons but will have radios to alert police to problems or suspicious behavior.
Members do not confront or arrest potential lawbreakers.
"With their radios and training, we can literally be summoned within seconds," Halstead said.
Some members may drive in the neighborhoods around schools -- and around the school itself -- to make sure that the perimeter is safe.
Others will patrol the school on foot, focusing on playgrounds, hallways, cafeterias and more.
"We want each elementary school to have a dedicated team and see the same faces," Halstead said.
Dansby said the plan will let the community help safeguard schools.
"There's no limit to what we can accomplish if we all work together," he said.
"The key is teamwork."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610
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