COMMENTARY - As we grieve and reflect on the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, we wonder why. That event will never make sense to us nor will there ever be a reason that could justify what happened there. What we need to do as a nation is learn from the past to better prepare us for the future.
In the last twenty years how many children have you heard of who have died in a school fire? I know of none. That's because fire departments have done a good job passing legislation, mandating safety requirements and practicing fire drills at schools.
In the past twenty years how many people do you know of who have died as a result of a school intruder? That number is disturbing.
Schools are mandated by law to practice fire drills three times each year, but are not mandated in Massachusetts to practice lockdown drills.
We live in a post-Columbine and post 9/11 world. Life is different and will always be different. There is no one answer that will make our schools a safer learning environment. There are an array of changes that need to be made and enforced in an effort to better prevent or minimize the actions of a determined human with a crazed mind. It will take all of us - police officers, gun owners, teachers, parents, students, politicians, psychologists, doctors and every other community member - working together toward a common goal of reducing violent actions at our schools.
We have come a long way. Thirty years ago, no one wanted police in their school. The schools were like a castle and only lowered the drawbridge when they needed assistance. Today, school resource officers are a common practice. I don't remember hearing of a mass school shooting where a police officer was present.
School Resource Officers do more than protect the school from harm, they foster a sense of trust between themselves and students. Such was the case at Marshfield High School in 2004 when students confided in their school resource officer and foiled a plot to commit mass murder at the high school.
Video surveillance needs to be installed at all schools and police need instant access to it. The main building at Virginia Tech did not have video surveillance and valuable life-saving time was lost seeking out a second shooter who did not exist. A review of video footage would have revealed one attacker and medical personal may have been cleared to respond inside much sooner to treat the wounded.
We must also change how we parent. Most important, realize that we show our children love by staying involved in their lives. As parents, we need to be nosy, check-up on our children, know their friends, and check their social media sites. It's not prying, it's caring. Children should not be allowed to have locks on their bedroom doors in their parents' houses.
Use sound judgment when considering whether children should play M-rated video games or listen to music that glorifies violence. Build trust with them by communicating openly an honestly. Be the one they come to when they need to confide something troubling in their lives.
At the state and federal levels, laws will need to change in order to mandate police and lockdown training for school personnel. Funding must be provided for this training; we can't afford more unfunded mandates. We have the oldest police departments in the nation, but Massachusetts spends the least in the country on police training.
When we all work together to harden our schools as a target and build bridges in the community, we will keep schools a place of learning, not fear. Remember that evil elements look toward soft targets that gather crowds of people. Communication is key in thwarting such an attack. Stay vigilant and report odd activity or behavior no matter where it happens. No call is too small for the police to investigate when safety and security of our citizens is our primary concern.
Understand that life is fragile and unpredictable and learn to live that way. Remember the safety of our children and our communities is paramount and without it nothing else really matters.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families in Newtown. May the first responders, teachers and students find peace.
Many heroes were made that day. Let's hope many lessons will be learned as well.
Phillip A. Tavares is the Marshfield Chief of Police and director of the Old Colony Police Anti-Crime Task Force.