Cops Increase Presence at Local Schools

The community may notice more police cars patrolling local elementary schools as the Wheeling Police Department increases its presence in reaction to the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Friday.

Patrol officers have been visiting elementary schools after officials with Ohio County Schools, police, the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department met Tuesday to address safety concerns following the shooting.

According to Sgt. Tom Howard, patrol cars are making extra passes by the school buildings throughout the day. Officers are entering the schools to introduce themselves to the principals and to familiarize themselves with the buildings’ layouts.

“They’re walking through the schools,” Howard said. “They’re making sure they’re becoming familiar with all the schools. That’s the increased presence that they’ve done before, but now they are doing a lot more.”

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said the department is encouraging all officers in patrol divisions to “increase visibility” in local schools.

“We are encouraging our officers to talk to staff and get to know the schools within their beats while they patrol,” Schwertfeger said. “We want to calm the fear lingering in parents, students and school staff.”

According to Howard, Ohio County Schools also has five prevention resource officers who are armed and trained for an active shooter situation. One of these officers is also a member of the police SWAT team.

Schwertfeger said the prevention resource officers are assigned full-time to Triadelphia, Bridge Street, Warwood and Wheeling Middle Schools, as well as Wheeling Park High School. He said prevention resource officers are not assigned to the county’s elementary schools, but will sometimes handle matters there when needed.

Howard also explained each school has its own lockdown procedures tailored to the building’s layout and every principal has the cell phone numbers of the five resource officers.

All principals, teachers, substitute teachers and staff, he said, are trained to handle an emergency situation.

In addition to increased police presence, Ohio County Schools will also be installing radios in all school buses.

According to Superintendent Dianna Vargo, the radios are designed to function in cellphone reception dead zones.

“Right now, with our resource officers going into our elementary schools with the DARE program, intervening with our students and the increased presence of the officers in elementary schools, we are confident at this point that our students are safe,” she said.