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Sandy Hook tragedy sparks additional security in Clare

Liaison Officer White to retire

By Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

School security is on everyone’s minds, now even more since the mass school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14. Police say Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at the home they shared in Newtown before opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle at the school and killing himself as police arrived. Twenty students and six adults died that day.

School security has been an important part of Clare Schools for many years and it is an important part of Clare Police Officer Al White’s day. He is the full time Clare School’s Liaison Officer.

Superintendent Doniel Pummell said in this week’s CPS Blitz on the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, “Safety is a topic of focus for us as we say prayers for families in Sandy Hook and [as] we look at our own procedures and practices to ensure that we are secure and safe. Al White is in the process of working with a group of community volunteers that have stepped forward to create what we are calling ‘Security Greeters’…In addition as the Chief [new Police Chief Brian Gregory] and I met this past week, he shared plans for a positive officer presence on our campuses. He will have his ‘off duty’ officers stop by our schools as often as they can to visit. He will have police cars parked by our buildings as well.”

Officer White, of course, is a permanent presence there. He has been involved with school safety and school activities as part of his job for 18 of the past 20 years and has watched many area youngsters grow up.

This year is his last. He plans to retire in September. “Twenty years is a long time to be involved with the schools. But I’m really proud that I could be a part of the lives of a lot of schoolchildren. I would like to see the program continue for the next 20 years. I would help in any way I could.”

Primary Principal Mandy Bolen said, “This program is very important to us. We are already working on budgeting for the program next year.”

Since he graduated from D.A.R.E. school in the fall of 1993, Officer White has been involved with Clare Schools in a big way, first as the official D.A.R.E. officer. (D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

D.A.R.E., is an international education program founded in 1983 by Daryl F. Gates that seeks to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior. Students who enter the program sign a pledge not to use drugs or join gangs and are taught by local police officers about the dangers of drug use in an interactive in-school curriculum which lasts ten weeks. D.A.R.E. America has its headquarters in Inglewood, California.

Clare’s D.A.R.E. Program, no longer in operation here, was originated by Clare County Prosecutor Ghazey Aleck.

Even before 1993, “We always had a good relationship with the schools,” White said. “With D.A.R.E. we had an officer there a couple days a week. Starting in 1993 I was the school D.A.R.E. officer and the unofficial Liaison Officer in Clare Schools, mainly in the Middle School. D.A.R.E. was a sixth grade program.

He said he worked two days a week for five years until the fall of 1998 when he became the full-time Liaison Officer/D.A.R.E. Officer.

Officer White continued in that role full-time during the school years until 2010. He stopped being the Liaison officer in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and now has returned for the 2012-2013 school , n ,mnyear. Officer Greg Kolhoff was School Liaison Officer in 2010-11 and the program was halted in 2011-12 due to budget constraints. “This is my last semester at the school, my last year before my retirement in September,” White said.

“As a liaison officer, when I started I was there mainly for drug, alcohol and substance abuse prevention,” he explained. “That was the main focus for the first five years then after the school shootings in 1999 happened everything became more security based.” On April 20, 1999 two high school students murdered 12 students and one teacher and injured another 25 before committing suicide at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. The massacre resulted in an increased emphasis on school security all over the country.

More recently, White’s Liaison Officer duties include security at the school, safety presentations for staff, being in charge of truancy, working with student who are victims of crimes, handling criminal activity that happens on school property, handling child abuse investigations, and working closely with juvenile probation departments from multiple counties. He is in charge of lockdown drills which are mandated for two each year. He said, “I like to do four per year.” He said he is also involved with fire drills of which there are six every year.

Officer White has an office at the Clare High School, but spends most of his time in the four school buildings.

Right now White is very involved in the new “Security Greeters” program. He said he already has 30 volunteers and will be training them on the proper procedure visitors should follow at the school buildings. “They won’t be enforcement people, but will be trained to greet all visitors, make sure they sign in at the office and have a pass to enter the school,” White said. “I will be teaching them what to do in case of an emergency or a suspected problem.”

“The school has always placed a high priority for security,” White said. “For many years we have only had one accessible door in each of the district buildings, and the requirement that visitors must sign in at the offices.”

The new Greeters will be available during school hours every day, one at each building. “We hope to get the new program started by the end of January,” White said. “We are still looking for volunteers. I would like to have 40,” he added. “My goal is to find enough people so each volunteer would only have to work for a single half day every two weeks.”

This program was developed as a direct result of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, White said.