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Hudson Valley Press

January 16th, 2013

Officials attend school safety forum, pledge improvements

Orange County Mental Health Commissioner Darcie M. Miller addresses School Safety Forum in Goshen, NY on January 10, 2013.

GOSHEN – Orange County Executive Edward A. Diana hosted a School Safety Forum with law enforcement officials and school administrators recently at the Orange County Fire Training Center in New Hampton to discuss ideas, in a roundtable format, on how the County, along with its many community partners, may improve safety in schools throughout Orange County.

"The safety of our residents is paramount to all of us," said County Executive Diana. "In coming together and discussing our ideas in a frank and informal manner we can continue to collectively work on solutions to better secure the safety of our school children and that of our communities as well."

The School Safety Forum was the result of a meeting the County Executive, New York State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr., and Orange Ulster BOCES Chief Operating Officer Dr. Terrence L. Olivo had with the Orange County Police Advisory Board last month after the tragic school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Senator Larkin said, "We need your input to do what’s best for our schools and communities."

"The workshop was a great step forward in establishing a regional approach to improving school safety and security," said Dr. Olivo. "No one entity, schools, law enforcement or government hold the answer - school safety is a community-based responsibility that can only be effectively addressed through a partnership of all three."

Some of the topics discussed at the standing room only meeting included: immediate actions that have been taken in response to Newtown; challenges that face school districts in meeting community expectations of ensuring a safe learning environment; ways the community may help; the value of information sharing between law enforcement, schools and mental health support agencies, in addition to the barriers that currently exist.

"The public should be aware that, since the 1999 murders at Columbine, Orange County school districts and police agencies have worked to continue their updating of school safety plans," said District Attorney Phillips. "As a participant in this ongoing process, I believe that this meeting has served to reinforce and continue the partnerships we’ve established to insure the safest possible environment for the children of Orange County."

"Complex problems, such as school safety, require complex solutions. There are no easy answers," said Orange County Sheriff Carl E. DuBois. "Given what we know about school violence, I believe part of the solution is to have a uniform police presence in every school building. The presence of a police officer provides benefits to the children far beyond that of security."

"Recent national tragedies have brought to the awareness of many the needs of those diagnosed with a mental illness," said Orange County Mental Health Commissioner Darcie M. Miller. "A majority of people who commit violent acts do not have a mental illness. Our priorities as a community should include access to mental health services, early and appropriate intervention, integration with primary care providers, and education."

The forum adjourned with participants agreeing to evaluate and make recommendations on the information that was presented during the two hour discussion session.

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