In a move toward increased school security and a continuing push to bridge the gap between school district and village, the Port Jefferson School District has moved to allow Port Jeff code enforcement vehicles to do patrols on school properties. In addition, the district has moved to join other municipalities and schools in giving Suffolk police access to school cameras at its Real Time Crime Center.
Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district has been working with the village for the past several months, emphasizing the desire for increased security. Since the two entities are separate municipalities, the change required an intermunicipal agreement signed by both parties.
The code officers will conduct patrol routes in their vehicles periodically throughout the school day and during after school activities at all district building parking lots, Schmettan said. They are not necessarily meant to get out of their vehicles or to go inside the buildings and are mostly there as a deterrent.
“It’s an additional presence to have marked cars on property,” Schmettan said. “That presence really helps during and after school.”
Trustee Kathianne Snaden has been working with the district to form this partnership. She said she has seen this need since when she was campaigning and taking a ride along with code enforcement, seeing that officers were not allowed on school property even if they saw there might be something illicit happening at the football fields or the bleachers in front of the high school.
Such an agreement had been proposed before, the trustee said, but had been swallowed up long before she entered office.
With the IMA signed, Snaden said there are more eyes where they need to be.
“There is a stronger visual presence on the campuses,” she said.
The superintendent said such work begets more cooperative action between the two Port Jeff municipalities.
“It’s very exciting to have support from the village, for us all to be on the same page,” Schmettan said.
The district has also moved to allow Suffolk police to have access to the district’s cameras at its Real Time Crime Center during emergencies. Such access has to be initiated by either the superintendent or her designee, most likely a deputy superintendent. That agreement was passed by the school board in December, the superintendent said, though police said they have not received the memorandum of understanding from the village.
Though board members and members of the schools security committee had original doubts of the program, citing privacy issues, Schmettan said the district has written the contract to be tailored and only be used during a major emergency, such as a school shooter.
Police said they currently have 28 MOUs from other districts. Once police receive the agreement, the only time between when cameras are hooked up to the police is the technical details between both school and police IT departments, and the time it takes to make a secure connection.
The Village of Port Jefferson hooked its own cameras to the crime center in May of last year. While some feared a “big brother” watching people constantly, police and village officials say it’s impossible for one person to look at every single feed at once, and the cameras are only accessed in cases of an emergency.
“It helps save lives,” Snaden said.