Sheriff's deputies will increase patrols at Deer Creek School District sites in an effort to promote greater security, Oklahoma County sheriff's office officials announced Thursday.
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said enhanced security will come in the form of increased officer presence on campus at sporadic times throughout the school day.
“Rather than just drive by, deputies will now pull over, get out of their cars and go inside of the schools,” Whetsel said. “We'll have officers going to each school throughout the day.”
The sheriff's office, in collaboration with school administrators, held a news conference Thursday morning at Deer Creek Elementary School, 4704 NW 164, to announce their plans, which will be put into effect at the district's high school, middle school, intermediate school and four elementary schools.
“We already have a great working partnership with the patrol officers,” said Lenis DeRieux, executive director of communications for the district. “We continuously check in with them about our school security procedures and in light of recent events, we wanted to touch base again and make sure that we are doing all we can to provide the safest environment for our students.”
Deer Creek Elementary School Principal Bettina Kates said the recent school shootings in Connecticut have caused schools across the nation to reconsider their safety precautions.
“Our school is situated similarly to the one in Connecticut,” Kates said, referring to the geographic layout of the two schools. “It's caused us to revise our plans. I think it's a trend we'll start seeing across the nation.”
Whetsel said parents, school administrators and deputies have talked about the possibility of stationing armed deputies at the entrance of each school building, but have no plans to implement the idea just yet.
“It's something that's definitely been brought up,” he said. “It becomes an issue of manpower. Right now we have no plans to do that but there is always the possibility that one day we might.”
According to an email sent to parents Thursday by Grove Valley Elementary School Principal Kelly Faught, a group of parents at that school has received permission from the district to work toward the goal of securing funding for a full-time security officer. The email asks if parents would be interested in making a donation to help pay the officer's salary.
Whetsel, meanwhile, said meetings Thursday morning at Deer Creek schools were intended to introduce deputies to the children and make them feel at ease with their presence.
“We want the children to understand that they're coming in not because something bad happened but just to say ‘hi' and check in on them,” he said. “We had our mascot, Brisco, there and it was a phenomenal success. We were able to associate fun with being around law enforcement officers.”
Andi Neaves, whose three daughters attend Deer Creek public schools, said the news of the increased security came as a pleasant surprise.
“I'm thrilled to hear about it,” Neaves said. “I'm very thankful to the school administration, teachers, and sheriff deputies who basically step in harm's way to protect our children. I figure we have extra security at airports, why not have it in schools? What is more important to us than our children's safety?”
Whetsel said the increased security will not come with any extra costs to the schools. Security will be enhanced on every campus.
Kates said despite the seemingly safe environment in the school district, extra security is necessary.
“We're a very safe district; people move here to be a part of our school district,” she said. “But the bottom line is that a threat can come from anywhere. A tragedy can happen anywhere. This is about us taking extra precaution.”
Tonya Lee Noon, whose daughter attends a Deer Creek Elementary School, said she is thankful for that extra precaution.
“I hate that the times aren't as innocent as they used to be,” she said, “but I feel a lot more secure dropping my child off at school knowing there will be armed officers there to protect her.”