Exclusive: First Look at Dothan City Schools' new safety initiative

Exclusive: First Look at Dothan City Schools' new safety initiative

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Dothan city leaders and Dothan's school system have finalized the comprehensive school security plan for the system.

Dothan's Police Department, along with various city offices, have worked over the last few months to develop what's being called the "School Protection and Response Initiative."

"Back in February, the Dothan City Commission created a top management priority for the police department to develop a school safety plan. That's what we did," said Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish.

The plan outlines the five big goals the department believes will help make schools safer:

  1. Minimize target opportunities by having a more physically secure environment
  2. Establish an early warning reporting system to law enforcement
  3. Develop response protocols for incidents, should they occur
  4. Exercise and plan execution
  5. Plan for the future

Chief Parrish said the school threat assessment conducted on all 20 schools in the system by tactical officers is one component of the first goal. Officers spent the last few months visiting each school in the system identifying areas of safety concern and making security recommendations.

"People say if you put a fence around it will look like a prison," said Parrish. "We have to decide whether we want a fence around a school to make that school more secure or we want that school to be aesthetically pleasing."

Another component of the first goal is the new Police Reserve Officer Program. The Dothan City Commission recently approved funding for 19 School Protection Officers for city schools. Their job is solely school protection. The program recruits retired officers to work at city schools.

"We'll do backgrounds, polygraphs, psych evaluations. "We will have weapons qualifications, we will do all those things before we hire the individual," said Parrish.

Five schools in the system already have trained SROs. The 19 new School Protection Officers would rotate through the five schools without SROs. Chief Parrish expects to have the new officers in place by the end of September.

The second goal "Establish an early warning reporting system to law enforcement" focuses on tracking threats made to schools through an intelligence network that uses an anonymous tip line. Information gathered would be used by school staff and officers inside schools.

"A veiled threat - nothing can be done about that, but we can still track where that came from," said Parrish. "If we have several of those then the school can step in with the counselor, or their personnel that they're looking at putting on board, to help mitigate some of those issues."

The third goal "Develop response protocols for incidents, should they occur" and fourth goal "Exercise and Plan Execution" closely align and bring together important services from other agencies in the community.

"One thing that I've seen throughout the country when they interview people at the scene at the schools where this happened, they all seem to say, ''We never thought it would happen here,'" said Parrish. "We've got to be able to prepare ourselves to be able to respond to those instances."

Parrish said that means working with local fire, EMS, and the EMA. Parrish noted that the city departments, like Dothan Fire, are developing individualized plans on how they would respond to emergency situations.

The city is also looking into implementing mock emergency drills for all departments so that everyone knows where to go in an emergency.

Parrish emphasized the fifth goal "Plan for the Future" is a reminder this plan is just the beginning.

"It's a living document. As times change, we're going to have to be aware," he said.

The security proposal notes it will be evaluated yearly and updated.

Parrish, Mayor Mark Saliba, Dothan City Schools superintendent and school board chair recently met with state leaders in Washington, D.C., to discuss funding for what could be a $3 million safety initiative.

Parrish said while they are working closely with those in Washington; school safety should be seen as a personal matter.

"It's got to be the responsibility of the citizens. How bad do you want your school protected?" said Parrish.

The chief confirmed he has also reached out State Attorney General Steve Marshall's office and is set to meet with him soon to discuss the plan.

Parrish noted that although this plan is developed for Dothan City Schools, it can be used as a template for any school system.

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