The inaugural "Coffee With A Cop" event held at the North Dover McDonald's Monday night focused on how local schools could better prepare to prevent the same kind of tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Conn. last Friday.
North Dover McDonald's owners Rob and Mary Jane Cocozzoli had initially organized "Coffee With A Cop" in a broader effort to facilitate the communication between the Dover Police Department and the people they serve. Local educators were the first people invited to the event.
The Dover PD had already assigned officers to every school in the Capital district in order to allay any fears and anxiety caused by the unspeakable tragedy in which 20 schoolchildren and six school staff members were gunned down by a mentally troubled young man.
In addition, Capital schools already had good security plans in place, where visitors had to report to the office and sign in to gain entry to the buildings, Dover Public Affairs and Emergency Coordinator Kay Dietz-Sass said.
"All we can do is make sure our staff is trained and comfortable with that training," she said.
Indeed, Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt said it was important for schools to go over those plans meticulously in order to gain an honest, candid and eye-opening look at whether those plans would actually work during a real emergency. To that end, Hosfelt told local principals gathered at McDonald's that the Dover PD in conjunction with Central Middle School Principal Dr. Darren Guido staged a mock emergency in which no one knew that it was just a drill several years ago. That included all students, staff and parents, save for a few who were asked to play certain parts as part of the act.
"No one had an idea," Hosfelt said. "[Guido] called a lockdown and everyone thought it was real. It was pretty telling. It got some attention. I think it worked out very well. Those are things we can help you with.
"It lets you know where you stand," he added after the forum. "As management, sometimes it's hard to see your mistakes. There's no better way than to identify them and fix them."
North Dover Elementary School Principal Suzette Marine said she would love to see tabletop planning occur during the Capital School District's monthly crisis meeting with support from Dover Police. (Hosfelt explained that tabletop planning was a logistical exercise in which school officials vetted all aspects of their safety plan thoroughly in order to best prepare staff for an emergency. It would include planning for evacuations, transportation, temporary shelter and asking police and other agencies for help, etc., for a hypothetical emergency.)
"The key is the lockdown and the procedures in place, and then it's afterward," Hosfelt said. "Where do you send the kids? How do you transport them? At Booker T., we've got a lot of area to work with. At North, we've got a lot of area to work with. At South Dover Elementary, there's one way in and one way out. You're talking about a traffic nightmare."
Page 2 of 2 - Dietz-Sass said Capital Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas was reviewing the district's emergency operations plan last weekend. The city of Dover was doing the same with its emergency plans, said Dietz-Sass, the Capital Board of Education president.
Hosfelt said police were there to offer any support and help. That included the assignment of police officers on Monday morning to each school in the Capital District indefinitely.
William Henry Middle School Principal Tory Giddens and Booker T. Washington Elementary Principal Dale Brown said they appreciated having the police at school.
"The main thing is just a continued presence, more community forums and more training of school personnel," Giddens said.
Dietz-Sass said the community had been very receptive to the plan to boost police patrols in school. Several had called the city to express gratitude for the increased police presence, she said.
At the conclusion of Coffee With A Cop, Hosfelt thanked the proprietors for hosting this event.
"Unfortunately, we learn from tragic events," he said.
"Our children are all grown up, but sooner or later we're going to have little ones running around," Rob Cocozzoli said. "It's nice to know these things are all discussed and planned. I'd like to do this again sometime."