CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) — Stunned by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, police and school officials in one Colorado county felt they had to do something to reassure students.
Their solution: Have police officers on patrol do their arrest reports and other paperwork in school parking lots, rather than simply pulling off the road or returning to the police station.
It's had an immediate calming impact at a time when the nation is embroiled in the emotional debate over gun control and gun violence.
“The kids get to see us in a new light. We're not showing up after something bad has happened,” said Sgt. Chris O'Neal of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department south of Denver.
O'Neal spoke while filling out paperwork outside Fox Creek Elementary School – one of six schools he visits daily.
He and his colleagues were ordered to use school lots to file their reports just days after the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Conn.
“Instead of sitting underneath a bridge somewhere and doing a report or out in a field, just go to the school parking lot, do your information, it's downloaded immediately, and all is well,” Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver said.
Local police departments also joined the effort in Douglas County, where about 64,000 students attend schools in sprawling bedroom communities on the plains south of Denver.
Security officers have long been assigned to the district's middle and high schools. But the district couldn't assign an officer to each of its more than 50 elementary schools. To help police work from elementary school lots, the district offers Wi-Fi that's faster than the cellphone Internet used by computers in patrol vehicles.
What happened at Sandy Hook forced officials here – and across the country – to re-evaluate their school security policies.
Sandy Hook “did everything right that we practice and that we drill on and that we talk about,” Douglas County schools Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said.
“We thought that the pieces we have in place were enough. And then, this opened our eyes to a whole different view of that,” she said.
Other measures being considered here include having armed plainclothes officers at schools, and installing remote-control door-locking systems to keep any potential gunman boxed inside a confined area.
But the parking lot initiative was a simple idea that had an immediate impact.
“It is certainly an idea we'd support and encourage,” said Corey Ray, spokesman with the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services, which encourages school-police partnerships.