Recently, Prince William Police Chief Barry Barnard addressed the Board of County Supervisors on the role of the county’s Police Department in providing public school safety.
“We have a responsibility as a community to do what we can to provide for a safe and secure environment on every level. There’s nothing more important for us than that responsibility, and we take it very seriously,” Barnard stated.
Police train regularly to keep the county’s 90,000 students safe and secure, Barnard told the board: “We’re constantly evaluating our approach, our strategies, our deployment of officers. It’s a continuous evaluation process for us to be sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our schools safe.”
However, school safety is not simply a police issue. A comprehensive approach that includes school officials, counselors, non-profits, the faith community, mental health professionals, social services, court services, parents and students is necessary to provide for a safe and secure school environment, the presentation showed.
Barnard said the Police Department counts on information from the community to help prevent crime. Deterring violence at schools is no exception. “We need people to call us and tell us things…. Planning for these events starts sometime before the actual shooting, and we need to hear from people when they have a concern.”
All of the county’s 17 middle schools and 12 high schools have an armed police officer, also known as a school resource officer. They participate in vulnerability assessments, identify and investigate threats to schools, and share information with school administration and risk management, according to Barnard.
Officers also regularly visit Prince William’s 61 elementary schools. The presentation showed that officers have visited elementary schools more than 8,000 times during regular shifts since 2016.
The school system’s cooperation with the Police Department also includes unannounced crisis drills at schools for students and school staff, suicide prevention and awareness training for all middle- and high-school students, and crisis response training for teachers and school staff. According to Barnard, school crisis plans are updated annually and school vulnerability assessments are conducted every three years.
After the presentation, the board directed the County Executive to come back to them with a recommendation for Prince William County on the issue of using retired police officers as school security personnel. The Commonwealth of Virginia allows school districts to hire retired police officers, who retired in good standing and whose retirement occurred within the past 10 years, to serve as armed security personnel. These officers must receive specialized active shooter training that includes learning to handle emergency evacuation and threat assessment. Each officer would also need an individual endorsement by the Chief of Police.