DA working on school security steps

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne is looking at ways to make schools safer in the wake of 20 children being killed in December in a school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Champagne met with superintendents of all the school districts in the area last week, and he’s working on coordinating site visits at all of the county’s schools.

In an interview last week, Champagne told the Enterprise he’s offering to meet with the staffs of schools to talk with them about what would happen in an emergency. The protocol today is different than it used to be, Champagne said. It used to be that law enforcement would secure a permitter and call in a hostage negotiator. Now, police are on a search-and-destroy mission until the target is eliminated; they’re focused on the threat above other concerns, Champagne said.

Champagne wants to make it clear that “those first three to five minutes, the staff’s on their own. They’re really on their own until the threat is neutralized. And unfortunately, it’s a horrible way to think, but you know, that was one of the things that came up in some of our first meetings after Newtown – some of the principals that we were talking to being like, ‘Oh my God, we never thought of that.’

“That’s a different type of training for the teachers and for the staff,” Champagne said.

He noted that substitute teachers need at least minimal training for emergencies as well.

Champagne is also offering to talk with district officials about figuring out a way to put resource officers in schools. He is willing to give them police powers, too.

He also wants to get the schools’ surveillance camera systems to interface with the county’s 911 system so, when the school calls 911, the county can flip a switch and see what the cameras at the school show. Three schools in the northern end of the county have already been hooked up, and Champagne hopes to get more wired in soon.

“It’s crazy not to try to take advantage of that,” Champagne said.

He’s also trying to figure out who would be first responders at each school and get those people to do a walk-through of the schools so they are familiar with the layout of each building. In places like Chateaugay and St. Regis Falls, where U.S. Border Patrol may be the first responders, it’s more of an issue than in Tupper Lake or Saranac Lake, where it would likely be local police, fire or rescue squad members who may already have a familiarity with the schools.

Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or