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'We are not Uvalde:' Recent Peoria school security steps highlighted at board meeting

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Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
The Peoria Public Schools board of education meets on Aug. 8, 2022.

Peoria Public Schools employees are largely confident about security in their buildings and throughout the district.

That's the takeaway from a survey largely comprised of administrators, certified and non-certified teachers, and staff.

Peoria Public Schools director of school safety Demario Boone presented the survey results to the school board on Monday night.

"When I looked at the responses from the survey. I was very happy with a lot of the stuff that we saw on here," Boone said. "This is very good to digest for our department, so we can shore up some things and work on stuff to improve safety."

Most survey respondents said their school has tangible safety measures in place, and their school community knows what to do in the event of a school-based emergency. Most also said they know where and how to report safety concerns, and that feedback is taken seriously.

Boone said active assailant training has helped raise that confidence. He said he stresses a mindset emphasizing the need to remain fluid and adjust tactics on the fly.

"When I was first an officer here, we told the teachers to walk into their classrooms, shut off their lights, go in the corners, and just wait. We don't want them doing that," Boone said. "What we do, for four years now, is teach the staff the 'run, hide, fight' philosophy."

Boone met with every school principal ahead of the school year, addressing concerns like doors or windows not closing properly.

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said Peoria Public Schools will have the every available officer at its disposal in the event of an active shooter incident.

"There is no higher call. We will be there. We are not Uvalde. And what occurred there is an embarrassment to law enforcement," he said. "And that will not occur here."

Echevarria said if officers can't respond during an active shooter incident, they need to find another line of work.

The school board recently approved adding IntelliSee, a weapon detection AI, to some district security cameras.

"It's really to try to show that we're proactive with this, if you decide to bring a firearm around a school, we're gonna catch it. So don't even be around kids, don't even be around the school buildings with those firearms. That's the main impetus of it," Boone said. "And then if you had an incident like Uvalde, we would be able to find out about that information a lot sooner, and be able to neutralize a threat."

Echevarria said the Peoria Police Department works closely with the Peoria Public Schools resource officers and are prepared to handle threats.

The Peoria Public Schools board also on Monday approved an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Peoria allowing school resource officers to work with police on the weekends and during special events. The SROs will focus on youth intervention and connecting families with wraparound services.

"We want to find these restorative measures to get kids out of things they shouldn't be in and use the relationships we have. We don't want to incarcerate. We want to make sure that we have the information there, you see them," Chief Echevarria said. "And on Monday morning, they can call Dr. (Derrick) Booth and say, 'Hey, here's some of the things we saw this weekend, we need to speak to this family, we need to speak to this child.' So we want to continue to nurture that."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.