Suffolk police officials have ended a pilot project to improve student safety by making schools relief points for patrol cars after a violent threat was aimed at police involved in the program, though not at a school.
Stuart Cameron, chief of department, told the county legislature's public safety committee last week the pilot project was terminated Dec. 20.
Ending the project followed an incident in which a suicidal man who had been arrested previously and committed for treatment “made direct threats to the sector car operators in [the] Kings Park area that he was going to come back to the relief point and shoot them.”
“We immediately relocated the relief point out of the school and back to the fire department,” said Cameron. He said the individual was committed again for treatment.
“Because we immediately removed the relief point, we do not believe there was any danger to the school,” Cameron said in response to Newsday questions.
Cameron said the man, whom police did not identify, “did have access to weapons, to both long guns and handguns, which were taken away from him.”
After consultations, school officials agreed that “the potential drawbacks are greater than the benefits we would derive in safety,” Cameron said of the program.
Cameron said the police department will “encourage sector car operators to visit the schools on a frequent, but irregular basis.” That is “better for security, rather than permanently relocating relief points to the school,” he said.
Relief points are used for patrol shift changes.
The pilot program, which began in early October, involved Kings Park, Smithtown East, Hauppauge and Sachem North high schools, all in the Fourth Precinct.
Police officials say the idea arose as a way to speed up response times and bolster deterrence at schools after mass shooting incidents including the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.
Cameron said the department encountered other issues that made operations more difficult than at local firehouses, which operate around the clock.
In some cases, snowplowing of school parking lots didn't occur immediately on weekends and holidays, and some lots had gates that could hamper access.
Also, the beginning and end of duty tours often coincided with school openings and closings, Cameron said.
“The last thing we want to do is create circumstances where police have trouble responding to an emergency,” said Ken Bossert, head of the Suffolk School Superintendents Association.
The county legislature's Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) called the department’s decision “prudent.” But he said a “middle ground” might involve using firehouses near schools to help speed response.
“I appreciate that Chief Cameron made the effort,” said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who introduced a resolution in September directing police to use schools as relief points when practical. “But maybe in the future, circumstances might change.”