Posted: Thursday, February 5, 2015 – 9:28 PM
By Laura Coleman and Victoria Talbot
The Beverly Hills community comprised of parents, Board of Education members Lewis Hall, Noah Margo and VP Howard Goldstein, Superintendent Gary Woods, Councilman Willie Brien and Interim City Manager Mahdi Aluzri, as well as at least 20 police officers, convened Thursday evening at the City’s public library to hear what the Beverly Hills Police Department had to say about safety in schools.
“We have no concerns about the safety of your children,” said Capt. Mark Rosen, highlighting that the police force is also made up of parents of students who attend Beverly Hills schools. “We will do everything we can to keep the kids safe; to keep the community safe.”
Rosen, who served as the Department’s main spokesperson for the evening, is an alumni of Beverly Hills High School. As Police Captain of the Field Services Division, Rosen manages field staffing.
Police Chief Dave Snowden assembled most of his command staff – including Rosen, Executive Officer Lt. Lincoln Hoshino, Community Relations Sgt. Max Subin, Div. Cmdr. Erick Lee, and Capt. Tony Lee representing the Department.
The two-hour long meeting was rife with misunderstandings and tangents.
One child in pink boots traipsed around the room with an iPad, daughter of a vocal father who quipped that school drop-off was inefficient, while another dad admonished the police for not ticketing parents dropping off their children at school. However, after about 30 minutes on that issue, the topic was dropped since it was not related to specific school security measures.
One mother voiced concern that in fact, Beverly Hills High School students had not known what to do during January’s two bomb threats.
Beverly Hills Unified School District Superintendent Gary Woods, who learned about the meeting on Monday afternoon when BHPD invited the community to the event via Nixle, assured parents that the school district has properly trained its students and staff in effective evacuation protocols working in tandem with the police.
In both instances, 1,700 students were evacuated without incident in a matter of minutes.
Police Chief Dave Snowden called the evacuations from the high school a “perfect example” of the cooperation between the school district and the BHPD.
Rosen said that errors made were being used for training and retooling plans. A weak link in the chain was the substitute teacher population. Since then, the District has been onboarding them on school evacuation procedures.
Rosen explained that every evacuation is different, and that students are not evacuated to the same location each time. In addition, he pointed out that evacuation is a school board function and police are primarily available to facilitate the school board’s plan.
In fact, one of the most dissonant issues centered around understanding precisely who is in charge of what. Most of the responsibility lies with the School Board for making decisions related to safety on campus, including the hot-button issue of a private, armed security team.
Little was said in regards to the failed EBi team, though they were mentioned in passing references.
Rosen insisted that the School Resource Officer (SRO) details that had been withdrawn in 2011 were not “the best use of resources” for the department and that it was incorrect that budget cuts led to the withdrawal of SROs. BHPD command staff said it was primarily a tactical decision; Snowden said that some SROs grew too comfortable in their positions and would play computer games with students at the schools while on duty.
Rosen explained that if the BHUSD wants to hire another company, the BHPD will integrate with them cooperatively.
Woods said the school district continues to explore alternatives to update security.
The BHPD has positioned some 300 cameras in strategic locations to monitor the exterior activity, off campus, at all the schools. The Watch Commander and Dispatch can tune in at any time to view exterior conditions.
Cameras inside the school are the purview of the BHUSD; which raises issues related to privacy. It is also an expensive proposition for the budget-challenged district.
When the meeting ended, it became clear that the police department is not going to assign individual SROs no matter how many officers are on staff. It was also made clear that the BHPD feels confident they can take care of any incident – but in reality, no one can stop every threat. Recent bomb threats were just threats; there was no bomb. They can, however, respond quickly as evidenced in the recent bomb threats.
Officers of the BHPD are committed to the highest level of security for the students in the BHUSD; that was the clear and consistent message for parents. Not only are they committed, but they are competent, efficient, skilled and well-trained individuals with detailed plans for any imaginable situation.
That being said, Rosen also reminded parents that the goal is to eliminate every possible security threat.
Clearly, safety matters to the BHPD. The likelihood of a bomb threat materializing in actuality means that every such threat will always be taken seriously and protocol followed. The incidents in January are being investigated to discover the source.
Officers are increasing their patrols at schools during the vulnerable pick up/drop off periods, and they are never far from any of the school campuses, parents were assured.