Feds to meet with police, school heads

JOHNSTOWN – Police chiefs and school leaders in Gloversville and Johnstown will meet with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in two weeks as local officials continue to examine school security issues and train to respond if a major incident happens close to home.

Johnstown Police Chief Mark Gifford told the Common Council at Monday’s meeting that security remains a “hot topic” among students, parents and residents who have called his office in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 elementary students and staffers dead, including the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who had a home in Broadalbin.

But Gifford said officers in both cities receive “continual training,” and the departments are well-equipped to deal with a large-scale threat.

The ongoing training includes the Jan. 18 meeting, which was scheduled before the Connecticut shooting, and will include Johnstown school superintendent Robert DeLilli, Gloversville Police Chief Donald VanDeusen, Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo and Richard Ruberti, the superintendent and principal for the Wheelerville Union Free School District in Caroga, which send its high school students to Johnstown.

“We’ll be reviewing policies and procedures, discussing ideas as far as physical security goes when it comes to the protection of schools, Gifford told the council.

About 80 BOCES faculty members also will be attending the workshop, which is part of a Gloversville school professional-development day, said Gloversville school spokeswoman Elizabeth Phillips.

The goal is to ensure that we are doing as much as possible to maintain student safety,” Vanyo said this morning.

“I believe we as, educators, all need to be on the same page with our security agencies and be prepared to act appropriately in an emergency situation,” DeLilli said this morning. “Our goal is to keep our schools as safe as we can while recognizing, acting and communicating effectively when an incident occurs.”

Gifford said members of the two cities’ departments train together as part of the Glove Cities Emergency Response Team, and all officers receive “active-shooter” and other ongoing training that would be relevant, as well as necessary equipment. But he’s hopeful Homeland Security officials can give school and police officials “a new set of eyes.”

“They have vast amounts of knowledge and resources, and it’s always good for somebody from the outside to take a look at things,” he said after the meeting.

“I continue to be very impressed with the level of training and thought that goes into police work to protect all of us in very specific places, like schools,” said Mayor Sarah Slingerland, a retired Johnstown teacher, who said she saw an increase in in-school safety training through the last decade.

“We were always concerned with the safety of the kids, but after 9/11, we had more drills for what to do in the classroom – basically, what they do today,” she added.

Gifford said his department expended “a lot of manpower” chasing down leads after threats and rumors of a Newtown-scale incident spread through the city’s schools. All leads were investigated and declared to be unfounded, he said.