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school violence

Suffolk County police Capt. Kevin Williams. Photo by Kyle Barr

A Suffolk police officer offered startling insight into threats of school violence within the Smithtown community.

Suffolk County Police Department Capt. Kevin Williams gave his first presentation of what is expected to be many to Town of Smithtown officials at their May 8 town board meeting. As the town’s new liaison to the 4th Precinct, he gave an overall picture of what threats police are dealing with at area schools and in the community.

Graphic showing the 4th Precincts business investigations and arrests in 60 days prior to May 8. Graphic by TBR News Media

Williams said that since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, police have seen an increase in school-related incidents within the areas of Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset and Smithtown.

“If you’ve seen it in the media, there’s probably one a day, threats from students against the school stating they are going to do a Parkland-like shooting or Columbine-type thing,” he said.

Williams said the increased cases of threats of school violence are not unique to Smithtown but are occurring in other precincts across the county. He advised parents to make a point of talking with their children about what may be inappropriate things to say and how they can raise a red flag with police. All threats are taken seriously, according to Williams, and are fully investigated taking a “decent” amount of time.

Suffolk police have been reaching out to and engaging in conversation with those school districts who have chosen to hire armed guards, including Hauppauge School District, following the Florida shooting, according to Williams.

“One of the most important things we all agreed is the people they hire are ex-law enforcement,” he said. “Highly trained professionals who have been out there and dealt with dangerous situations like this.”

He indicated a second school district within the Town of Smithtown is considering hiring armed guards in the future. As this becomes more common, Williams said cops are working to make sure they can quickly and easily identify armed guards in case of an active shooter situation.

Opiod overdoses reported by the the 4th Precinct. Graphic by TBR News Media

In April, the police department reported violent crimes and drug overdoses were all heading in the right direction in the first quarter of 2018. This trend has continued over the past 30 days in Smithtown.

Williams reported drug overdoses due to opioid use, both fatal and nonfatal, have decreased by 25 percent compared to the same time period last year. He credited this to the agency’s 852-NARC (6272) hotline, which receives approximately 12 to 15 phone calls a month from residents providing tips on drug dealers and sales. The officer said the 4th Precinct’s narcotic detectives executed 14 search warrants in January alone and made numerous arrests.

Over the last month, Williams said robberies are down, with one in 2018 compared to four over the same period of time in 2017, as well as a decrease in residential burglaries. The biggest culprit of home invasions remains unsecured homes or buildings, he said.

“It’s summer and people want to leave their windows open, but a screen is not protection,” he warned.

One exception to the decrease in crime is in the area of commercial burglaries. In the past 30 days, there have been four instances compared to none during the same period of 2017, according to Williams. One recent case involved an individual who attempted to pry open the back door of St. Thomas More R.C. Church in Hauppauge.

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There is no denying the Florida school shooting has reignited a national discussion on appropriate firearm regulations and mental health issues. Amid the uproar, students are organizing in attempt to make their voices heard — and we firmly believe they deserve to be at the forefront of this conversation.

The Women’s March Youth EMPOWER has put out the call for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to participate in a national school walkout Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. The event calls for students to walk outside of their school building for 17 minutes, one minute for each of victims killed in Parkland, in a unified effort to show students demand action from Congress in passing federal gun regulations.

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, whose niece Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, voiced support for the student walkout.

“It keeps the issue of how high school students feel about gun violence in the news, and will also send the message that our children’s voices do count,” he said. “And the tone-deaf GOP politicians in Congress will be forced to listen to how they feel.”

The reaction of Long Island’s school districts to the walkout wildly varies and, in some cases, is disappointing. We applaud Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum for sitting down with student organizers in his district to discuss plans and ensure safety.

If the point of education is to prepare our children for life, and to become civic-minded adults, Baum’s action should serve as an example for other districts.

Brenden Cusack, principal at Huntington High School, has used the walkout as an opportunity to arrange a March 13 forum where students, teachers and the community can engage in respectful dialogue on mass shootings.

It is disappointing that other districts like Rocky Point have issued warnings that administrative action will be taken in response to any student participating in the walkout. The event is an effort to cry out for attention, where the district’s planned moment of silence is just that, silence, and a letter-writing campaign is too easily ignored. This decision by school administrators strangles students’ voices, making someone think twice before expressing an opinion.

Worse are those school officials who have decided to bury their heads in the sand and not publicly address the walkout. Elwood and Harborfields have not yet issued public statements regarding how their districts will handle the event. This leaves both students and parents with numerous unanswered questions. With a little less than a week until walkout day, we strongly encourage school officials to reconsider an open and honest dialogue.

The first step to solving a problem starts with discussion of the issues. Students have every right to be heard, for it’s their safety at risk.