Chris Van Horne, Fort Worth Reporter
The Fort Worth Police Department and the Fort Worth Independent School District announced a new partnership to improve security at elementary schools.
It may be the start of spring break, but Fort Worth leaders are not taking a break from making the safety of children a top priority.
On Friday, Fort Worth police and the Fort Worth Independent School District announced a new partnership to improve security at elementary schools.
The announcement comes nearly three months after 20 students and six adults were gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Middle and high schools in Fort Worth already have campus resource officers, but elementary schools don't. Before Sandy Hook, no one really thought they needed an armed police officer on campus.
But in the wake of that tragedy, the police department and district will turn to hundreds of volunteers who are already patrolling neighborhoods to deter crime to keep these elementary schools safer.
"They (Sandy Hook) had every precaution in place. There was nothing they hadn't done right, so what we have to do is be more vigilant before anything happens," Superintendent Walter Dansby said. "That's why the patrols are so important -- to notice anything in or about our schools or even our neighborhoods that look peculiar."
Dansby endorsed the plan that Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said he spent weeks developing.
Halstead said he researched how fire protection in schools has improved over the decades and then tried to find the next program to do the same for school safety.
Halstead said he knew he couldn't add officers to protect schools because of the current state of city and school district budgets. That's when the idea of using volunteers from Code Blue, the department's citizen patrol program, to augment the existing safety and security measures.
"As a parent, I would not want my child walking around a second-grade campus with five armed guards," Halstead said. "I just don't think that's an appropriate thing for them to be exposed to. This -- they have common community members that they probably know working and patrolling in their schools."
For 21 years, Code Blue volunteers have patrolled the streets of Fort Worth. About 800 to 900 volunteers spent 9,300 hours patrolling city streets and walking neighborhoods last year, according to Halstead.
He credits the program in reducing the city's crime rate over the last two decades.
All volunteers receive training from the police department before they start their patrols and they will receive additional training for this new partnership with the school district.
"We're going to get with the superintendent of schools and principals and see what's needed in that particular school setting and go from there," said Janice Congress, a seven-year Code Blue veteran. "I am just elated about this program; I'm stoked."
Congress and dozens of other volunteers were present for the partnership's announcement on Friday at Rosemont Elementary School. The volunteers, Mayor Betsy Price, Dansy and Halstead all said they believe the program will would a success.
"We had to do something creative and that would guarantee success," Halstead said.
The program will begin at the start of next school year and will be re-evaluated at 30, 60 and 90 days to see how it can be improved.
The volunteers will focus on the 84 elementary FWISD campuses before the program is expanded to other willing districts in the city limits.
Volunteers will patrol by vehicle around the perimeter of the school. Over time, Dansby and Halstead hope the volunteers will become a part of the school and the surrounding community. It's expected volunteers will know who belongs and who is a visitor.
Dansby said he's excited that people who may not ordinarily be involved in the schools will now be at the schools helping to look after the city's children.
But the city needs more Code Blue volunteers.
The number of volunteers has decreased over the years. To get the program started right, they need to grow by 20 percent. And the number of volunteers would need to increase by another 50 percent in five years to sustain the program.
A yearly Code Blue meeting is being held Saturday at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. People interested in participating can attend the meeting, visit the department's website or call 817-392-4120 for more information.