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Daily Pilot

Irvine parents, police talk school safety

School officials say district teachers are prepared in case an intruder tries to get onto campus.

By Jeremiah Dobruck

9:28 PM PST, December 22, 2012

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Irvine school officials and law enforcement officers reassured parents that they have a lockdown training system and active-shooters protocol in place in the wake of the deadly shooting in Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school.

During a town hall meeting Wednesday night, Irvine leaders tried to pull back the curtain on some of their training.

"You may not be aware of all that we do in public safety," Mayor Steven Choi told the group of about 200 attendees at Irvine High School. "Some of that work is unseen, but each effort is important."

Irvine Police Chief David Maggard said that the department splits the city into four patrol zones that officers are constantly moving through. This cuts down their response time to schools, he said, noting there is an officer in the vicinity of each school 24 hours a day.

"They are not responding from a fixed location or a police station," he said. "They are responding from the area they patrol and are responsible for."

Irvine police also conduct safety seminars in the schools themselves. Staff of each school within the city undergoes the School Crisis Response Training Program.

"We walk them through the process of what the school would actually do. Who would make the announcement of the lockdown? Who would call 911?" Irvine Police Lt. David Klug said.

School leaders first work through a lockdown in a tabletop exercise, then the protocols are put into action during a drill on each campus, with all staff participating.

"It's all done in their own classroom," Klug said.

Teachers first practice what they would do in the event of an emergency, including locking classroom doors and hiding. Then they roleplay as students in different scenarios, such as what would happen if an intruder breached campus during recess.

Police and the superintendents of Irvine and Tustin unified school districts repeatedly stressed vigilance, asking that parents and teachers who know their schools best not hesitate to contact police.

"The best defense we can have in any school, regardless of the layout, regardless of the physical security plan, are people that are looking out for suspicious activity, people who don't belong, suspicious vehicles in the parking lot," Maggard said.

After the presentations, parents asked how police presence can be improved in lower grades.

In addition to the six school resource officers assigned to Irvine's six high schools, Maggard said the department is considering adding another SRO position for middle schools.

That level of police involvement assuaged John Panzullo's fears. He is the parent of a Beckman High School freshman.

"It makes us a lot more reassured that the school environment has actual police presence on the campus," Panzullo said. "Our son went to private school, and he's just now going into the public school system. And it was a little scary for us because he was at a school of 400 children. Now he's at Beckman with 2,400 children."

Sanjay Dalal, the parent of a University High School senior and a Rancho San Joaquin Middle School seventh-grader, said he hopes principals will start neighborhood watch-type groups where parents can volunteer to patrol outside of schools.

He was, however, impressed by the level of training police provide to teachers.

"I didn't know that before, so I'm actually quite relieved today," Dalal said.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck