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Watchful lenses to magnify school security systems

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD In the wake of the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings, federal, state and local school officials have rewritten school safety procedures in an effort to combat violence among students.

In conjunction with the Westfield Police Department, the Westfield Public School System has recently been awarded a federal grant that will help them increase technological security within four schools starting as early as the next school year.

According to Donna Toupin, director of grants for the Westfield Public School System, the school system has been awarded $348,572 via the Secure Our Schools Grant by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office. The funds will be used for the installation of multiple interior and exterior security cameras and other safety equipment at North and South Middle Schools, Westfield High School and the Westfield Vocational Technical High School.

"We want to have the most proactive security system possible and mediate situations before they become problems," Toupin said, adding that video cameras will allow school personnel to see approaching visitors and make proactive decisions regarding their access. "The cameras will be placed to provide the highest level of security possible," she explained.

Police Chief John Camerota explained that the cameras will provide an increased level of awareness for school officials as well as live video feed for emergency personnel in the event of a crisis. He added that eventually school and safety officials will also be able to access the technology through a wireless system in order to better monitor school grounds. Camerota said that the City Council will also be appropriating matching funds for this effort in the near future.

Toupin said the job of monitoring the security cameras upon installation will most likely be each school's resource officer. Toupin said she and other Westfield officials toured Chicopee Comprehensive High School last month to experience firsthand this type of increased technological security.

Joe Morissette, school resource officer at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, said since opening on Jan. 2 none of the external or mechanical safety and security policies have changed with the addition of the security cameras. He explained that like other schools with this technology, school personnel are still deployed at entry ways, doors and windows remain locked and a sign-in process is still implemented for all visitors.

"The technology gives us 24-7 coverage of the interior and exterior of the building so that we can monitor people come and going. It really brings our security to a whole new level to ensure the safety of our kids," Christopher Rogers, assistant principal at North Middle School said of the future technology.

Toupin explained that the project will be going out to bid in the near future in the hopes that the cameras and other security equipment will be installed within the new school year.