Bruce Blakeman and Patrick Ryder stood on the steps of Valley Stream Central High School, holding up a backpack.
No, this wasn’t one of the many school supply giveaways that take place this time of year. Instead, the Nassau County executive and Nassau County Police Department commissioner wanted to show a “go-bag.” Filled with emergency response gear to deal with everything from school shootings to drug overdoses, these backpacks have been placed “in every county police vehicle and given to our village police department” stocked with emergency tools from a tourniquet to stop life-threatening bleeding, to Narcan, a lifesaving medication used in opioid overdoses.
These backpacks are yet another tool in a growing arsenal of existing school safety measures and protocols Blakeman said are critical in creating “an atmosphere of safety” at Nassau schools.
“There is no higher priority than the safety of our children in Nassau County,” Blakeman said. “We are extremely serious about making sure that our kids, when they go to school, are in a safe environment free from any kind of violence or any kind of medical condition that would jeopardize their health.”
With the creeping rise of school gun violence and opioid deaths nationwide, Blakeman stressed the county’s effort to ensure efficient cooperation between teachers, police officials, and local government. He also called on parents to be the first line of defense in spotting and reporting problematic behavior with their kids — especially as they grow into teens and young adults.
“Parents, know what your kids are up to,” Blakeman said. “Know who their friends are. If some kid is acting weird or is doing something that can possibly lead to violent activity — whether in-person or on social media — let school officials know.”
Major strides have been made in the police’s coordination efforts with schools, Ryder said, as ways to prevent active shooters and cut down on response times.
This is possible thanks to existing safety procedures and technology like security-wide assessments, mandatory police school visits, and the widespread installation of the Rave Panic Button system in schools — a rapid alert apparatus designed to directly connect school administration to law enforcement and emergency dispatchers during a life-threatening event.
Other tactics include a dedicated team of officers who monitor the web for troubling social media posts or suspicious online behavior.
“If school officials do find something,” Ryder said, “we immediately sit down with them, the student, and their parents and discuss it.”
One instance that came to Ryder’s mind was where a conversation led to a consensual search of a family’s property, turning up weapons inside the home even the parents were not aware of.
“Since 2013, there have been 75 people killed in school shootings,” Ryder said. “Roughly 75 percent of all active shootings end in five minutes or less. And 52 percent of that is over in two minutes.”
Ryder noted that the county police’s response time falls squarely within that window — averaging around three to five minutes. In the fast-paced chaos of a shooting, “closing that gap between two to three minutes” through quicker response times can save lives, citing the need for more trained officers on stand-by. And close to schools.
“The bad guy has to be right once,” Ryder said. “We have to be right every single time, so we practice how we play and improve on everything we did before.”
Part of that improvement, noted Ryder, is increasing police presence around campuses and other high-profile areas with the unveiling of “overwatch” teams — 20 heavily armed uniformed officers patrolling in groups of four, in all areas of the county, irrespective of crime rates.
These tactics, officials hope, will create a visible police presence and engender a feeling of safety and protection.
“This is how our partnership coming from government, the police and schools is supposed to work,” Ryder said. “But our number one partner is our parents. They see more than we do. They must let us know, and we’ll step in.”