Increased school safety measures to continue

An increased law enforcement presence in School District 51 schools will continue when students return to class from winter break this Tuesday.

District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon told The Daily Sentinel last month the district invited local law enforcement to come to schools to have lunch, walk the halls and visit school offices the week before winter break, Dec. 17-21. The request followed the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

The invitation for Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade police officers, Mesa County sheriff’s deputies and Colorado State Patrol troopers to visit schools in their “beat” areas will continue when school resumes, according to District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee. School resource officers will continue to patrol schools as well, although there will be one more of them. A third school resource officer through the Grand Junction Police Department will begin work this week, raising the total number of school resource officers in the district to six. Two other school resource officers are from the Fruita Police Department.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department has one school resource officer in District 51, but that number will increase to four in 2013 thanks to a $375,000 Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program grant. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said one of those officers will start by the end of this month, while the other two will start work sometime later this year.

Benjamin added sheriff’s deputies who are not school resource officers plan to continue an increased presence in local schools for the time being and visit schools “as much as they possibly can.”

Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said he couldn’t go into detail for security reasons but the Police Department has taken “internal steps” to increase coverage and visibility in schools. Those steps include changes to patrol practices, he said.

“We’re very conscious of steps we need to take to ensure security in our schools,” Camper said.

School safety is a priority throughout the year, McGee said, but the tragedy at Sandy Hook “just magnifies that effort.”


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