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Dutchess County holds school safety summit

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Albany/HV: Dutchess County holds school safety summit
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How can we make schools safer? That was the key question posed to state and local police at a school resource officer summit hosted by Dutchess County legislators. YNN's John Wagner has the story.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- Amid continuing high emotions following the Newtown school shooting, schools across Dutchess County are undergoing safety audits, checking locks on doors, requiring IDs at entry ways.

"Some cameras are going to be hooked into the police department so we'll have access to them, so I think overall, yes, it's going in the right direction," said Town of Fishkill Police Chief Donald Williams.

Hyde Park Lieutenant Robert Benson was a school resource officer even before Columbine. That tragedy lead to the creation of a Dutchess County school safety advisory committee and unprecedented coordination amongst police departments.

"After Columbine, most schools really started looking at the way they handle things and even police looked at the way they responded," said Lt. Benson.

"I do believe, know for a fact, the schools in Dutchess County are safe," said Michael Jankowiak, a state police captain at Troop K. "I think it's meetings like this, that promotes the communication amongst the law enforcement."

While schools never will become impenetrable fortresses, police say it's a matter of putting the best practices forth to reduce the odds of catastrophe. Or in Newton's case, to respond in a unified and planned matter, to minimize the effects of it.

"The perpetrator in that case had no to very little involvement with the school, so all the preparation in the world, wouldn't have changed that," said Jankowiak.

"We haven't had many people killed in fires in schools for many years because we practiced drills," said Lt. Benson. "They practiced fire drills, what to do, where to go and it's the same thing now with lockdown drills."

Police say they feel well prepared to respond. But to prevent the next Sandy Hook, they say they need more teamwork amongst teachers, principals and students who see drugs, guns and violence inside schools, but do nothing to report it.

"There are areas outside of their expertise that need to be enhanced and to have that follow through and wrap around, kind of concern," explained Dutchess County legislature chairman Rob Rolison. "I think mental health has a lot to do with that."

"Let's face it," continued Jankowiak, "by the time we respond to something like Sandy Hook, it's too late."

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