Editorial: Joining forces to protect children

Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, right, speaks with the media during a school safety symposium, "Safer Communities," which took place at SUNY Purchase. Bratton was the keynote speaker. (Feb. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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Combining public safety efforts of hundreds of school districts, police departments and political fiefdoms in Westchester County seems like an impossibility when you consider so many of them operate in their own geographical silos.

Add in the complexities of mental illness, gun violence, gangs and the like, and the vastness of the task of keeping our children safe from gun violence becomes clear: No one entity can adequately address potential problems in isolation. Certainly not when the challenges are changing, and the solutions are evolving all the time.

"If you think you can do it alone, you are doomed to fail," William Bratton, a former head of the New York and Los Angeles police departments, told several hundred professionals at SUNY Purchase on Wednesday at a kickoff event for Westchester County's Safer Communities initiative. Bratton, an advocate of crime prevention and community policing, said collaboration is imperative.

He's right, and that's the true value of this initiative, which was apparent on its first day. While the answers may vary from Mount Vernon to Mount Pleasant and Yonkers to Yorktown, Westchester's cities, town, villages, school districts and houses of worship have insights to offer or programs to share -- and all have a unifying stake in preventing violence.

The sobering reality is that no community is immune, not even quiet suburban hamlets -- as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut showed the country.

Safer Communities was coordinated by County Executive Rob Astorino and inspired by the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six educators were murdered in what was once considered the safest of environments -- a school.

Educators, emergency responders and political leaders started this very important conversation Wednesday. They provided valuable resources and talked about challenges, approaches and potential solutions. They asked questions and shared information.

There will be a violence prevention forum in April at the Westchester County Center and -- with a greater mental health component at that event -- and the goal will be to have more Safer Communities events, training and preparation to follow. Astorino said Safer Communities will evolve as the groups convene; the goal is better coordination for emergencies and more prevention.

It's a good start. Now the community conversation must continue if there's any hope of avoiding another senseless tragedy.

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