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Suffolk pitches plan for police to access school cameras

Suffolk County officials formally pitched their plan to have police access school security cameras in moments of danger to education officials Thursday.

The initiative would allow Suffolk police officials to tap into school cameras remotely and get eyes inside school buildings in case a shooter broke in.

More than 50 county schools, 6 police forces and 5 county agencies attended the meeting in Hauppauge. Officials also discussed other measures: the SAVE hotline, a dedicated landline that alerts police, and Smart 911 and other safety smartphone apps, where users can provide information that call operators can use in an emergency.

Police and county officials have cited the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, as a dangerous event where casualties could have been minimized with remote access to camera systems.

“Every school leader here and law enforcement official is grappling with the issue of how do we keep our kids safe. The theme for today was partnership,” said County Executive Steve Bellone.

County superintendents will now meet with school administrators to determine if they want to participate in the program — known as the Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry Initiative — and learn how it will fit into districts’ existing safety protocols, officials said.

“It’s 69 different communities so the discussions are how to take this partnership, which isn’t one-size-fits-all, and figure out what that community needs,” said Lars Clemensen, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. “School districts are at all different points of the spectrum of the resources they have and the work that they’ve done on school safety.”

The initiative would allow police officials at headquarters to have access to cameras once they receive a distress call alerting them of an incident in a school.

Once officers get a visual, they can relay the information to responding officers in hopes of neutralizing a shooter more quickly. Instead of looking for a shooter in a school, responding officers would already know where to go and could breach the entrance closest to the danger, officials said.

Police would also be able to share information with other first responders and be better equipped to coordinate rescue efforts.

Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, who said most active shooter situations are over within 12 minutes, praised the plan and said time is critical.

“This is a great capability,” Cameron said. “The more they [school officials] know about it, the more I think they’ll be inclined to engage with us.”

Central Islip School District Superintendent Howard Koenig said he fully supports the initiative.

“The more safely we can get law enforcement into the buildings, the better I’m going to feel,” said Koenig, who attended the meeting. “We have already provided Suffolk Police with floor plans for our buildings for safety purposes. This, to me, is just another way of enhancing their ability to do what they have to do if there’s ever an issue in my schools.”

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