Newtown Tragedy Spurs Safety Initiative In Westchester

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County Executive Robert Astorino announces the launch of the Safer Communities initiative Wednesday.
County Executive Robert Astorino announces the launch of the Safer Communities initiative Wednesday. Photo Credit: Westchester County

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Westchester County launched an initiative Wednesday to combat violence through education, County Executive Robert Astorino announced.

The Safer Communities initiative will harness the expertise of local police, educators, clergy and community leaders through programs designed to educate the public about what services and programs are available to them. The initiative will also seek to enhance those programs going forward.

“Our approach is to attack the causes and consequences of violence comprehensively, collaboratively and continuously," Astorino said in a statement. "Fortunately, most of what we need, we already have. So the major effort here involves creating awareness around existing resources, building relationships to improve communication and acting as a unified team to increase our effectiveness.”

On Feb. 27, there will be a School Safety Symposium at SUNY Purchase, which is designed to help school districts better coordinate with law enforcement. George Longworth, commissioner of the county Department of Public Safety, and the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association organized the event.

“Familiarity and coordination are two critical tools when preparing for and responding to a crisis,” Longworth said in a statement. “This forum will give educators a realistic sense of what they can expect and a chance to strengthen relationships and lines of communications with their law enforcement counterparts.”

The event begins at 9 a.m. with various law enforcement officials, but is not open to the public due to the sensitivity around security strategies. At 11:15 a.m., a panel of educators will discuss what works and what doesn’t work in a crisis. They include Louis Wool, superintendent of the Harrison Central School District and president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents.

“The opportunity to talk about what works and doesn’t work ahead of time and in very realistic terms should be invaluable for all school districts that are in the process of updating security plans,” Wool said in a statement.

School officials interested in having similar sessions conducted in their districts should contact their local police department or the Department of Public Safety at 864-7858.

On April 9, another program will address violence as a public health issue and give community leaders a chance to share best practices, identify areas for improvement and implement programs to address gaps in the system. The county Department of Health will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for this event, to be held at the Westchester County Center. 

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