Safe corridors a dead end?

BRIDGEPORT — The district’s new safe-corridors program isn’t working half as well as organizers would like because not enough volunteers are stepping forward to be the eyes and ears of the district.

A number of residents say it’s because parents, like their children, are afraid of retribution if they report a crime.

“You’re going to get somebody killed,” said Clyde Nicholson, a local resident.

School board member Sauda Baraka echoed the sentiment, saying the program is putting citizens in a precarious situation and could turn them into targets.

Shively Willingham, in charge of security for the school district, said the program — instituted in response to a string of deadly shootings in the city this year and long before last week’s tragic school shooting in Newtown — is better than nothing and needs a chance to work.

“We are trying to make the path to school safer,” said Willingham. “We have to do something … If it doesn’t work we will re-examine it.”

Until he arrived last January, Willingham said the district had no organized way to make sure students had safe routes to school through some very tough neighborhoods.

The safe corridors program began this fall to provide students a path to walk to school that is supposed to be monitored by security cameras, school security, city police and volunteers who wear vests and carry walkie-talkies.

So far, the program has attracted only 30 volunteers for the district’s 30 schools. Not nearly enough, Willingham conceded.

He called the effort a work in progress and said it is too soon to determine its effectiveness.

But Maria Pereira, chairwoman of the safety committee, said she worried about the liability to the city if one of the volunteers gets hurt. Others expressed concern about the cameras that have been installed around the perimeter of the corridors. What some see as protection, Teresa Wilson sees as potential spying.

Several high school students at the meeting didn’t seem to share that concern. They said things are safer in and around their schools than they used to be, but could be better.

Tia Woods, 15, a sophomore at Bassick, said from what she can tell, there is not constant monitoring of the cameras by security.

Amalia Nieves, 17, a Harding senior said the corridors idea is a good one. Walking through metal detectors in the morning is a hassle, but she felt safer.

William Durham, 17, was able to name all three police officers that patrol the exterior of his school and he said security inside worked better when there were hall monitors as well as guards.

Willingham said shortly after he arrived in the district, an audit of school safety measures and procedures was done. He found cameras that didn’t work, school doors regularly propped open, and no standardized way to know who was in a building. He pledged that within 30 days, all security cameras in the schools would be working.

In the meantime, Pereira said her committee will work on a plan to make sure all schools regularly conduct lock-down drills and have a crisis management plan in each school. That plan will go to the board’s policy committee.

Willingham said he also wants to see everyone at schools to wear identification and for all visitors to sign in.

Others suggested the district should focus its resources on the drug and gang problems facing students.

“You need to get at the root of the problem,” said Dave Gordon, who was the district’s only drug counselor until he was laid off two years ago.

Linda Lambeck