Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple introduced the new PAPERS program as a response to recent gun violence in our nation’s high schools, including Parkland, Fla. earlier this year. The program will be launched at Ravena Coeymans Selkirk, Voorheesville and Berne Knox Westerlo this September. The radios, including 19 “panic buttons,” were made available through a partnership with Motorola Solutions. Photo by Michael Hallisey / Spotlight News
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By KATIE HOPSICKER
COEYMANS — Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple Sr. outlined his new school safety and security initiative on Wednesday, July 18, during a press conference held at the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Jr./Sr. High School complex. The Police And Pupils Enforcing Safety program (PAPERS) provides the communication equipment necessary to ensure a safe environment for both students and staff of the RCS, Berne-Knox-Westerlo and Voorheesville central school districts.
In light of the tragic events of Parkland, Fla. and with the 2018-19 school year quickly approaching, Apple not only wants “children to feel safe and secure,” but also wants the sheriff’s office to “do better than we have been doing.” While School Resource Officers (SROs) have already been placed in school buildings throughout the three districts, Apple realizes that “schools need more than an SRO to keep kids safe… officers cannot be everywhere if something happens.”
Apple’s plan includes equipping the three districts with an emergency communication system that includes a total of 19 panic button control stations placed strategically throughout the school buildings, 20 portable two-way radios and the installation of mobile radios on all 114 school buses in the districts. With just a push of a button, these communication devices open a direct line of communication between the school and Albany County’s 911 dispatcher.
Partnering with Motorola Solutions, Albany County is the first municipality in New York state to install a communication system of this nature. While the system costs $330,000, it is a one-time expense with no impact on taxpayers. It will be paid for by the sheriff’s office with gambling and drug asset money seized from criminals. “It is hard to put a value on protecting our kids,” said Apple.
In the event the system is used, not only will 911 will be contacted immediately, but the dispatcher will also be able to listen to what is going on in the background, ultimately sharing that information with first responders.
An additional component of the initiative includes a redesigned Albany County Sheriff’s Mobile Phone App. The app integrates “See Something, Say Something” and “See Something, Text Something” features, which enables students and teachers the ability to call, send pictures and videos, or text the Sheriff’s office in the event of a potential or actual emergency.
Francis Rielly, Voorheesville Central School District’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, stated that in society today, “time is always of the essence… the fact that one can hit a button and immediately call 911… it’s refreshing.”
Rielly believes the system will provide “another layer of security for the whole community.” RCS, BKW, and Voorheesville school districts are in rural areas, where there is a risk of wild animal encounters, accidents and more. With two-way radios in each of 114 school buses in use between the three districts, bus drivers can communicate with each other, the schools and the police. The instant communication through radios is meant to ensure safety to not only the students, but also the community at large.
Along with the two-way bus radios, the 19 panic buttons will be placed strategically around the districts. There will be three to four buttons in each building, placed in areas with high student access, such as cafeterias, libraries and gymnasiums. The 20 two-way handheld radios will also be distributed and given to teachers and administrators for use both inside and outside during the school day.
During the conference, a live action test was administered for the emergency panic buttons and the two-way radios. The button was pressed, and the dispatcher was in touch in less than five seconds.
Engineered specifically for Albany County, there are high expectations for the success of this initiative. Eventually, the use of the system may spread to other districts.
“We are here to help, mentor and guide the kids,” said Apple. Come September, the goal is that “kids can return here and feel safe coming to school.”