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San Diego Leaders Discuss School Safety

Above: San Diego leaders gather at City Hall to discuss school safety in the wake of a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Aired 12/18/12 on KPBS News.

San Diego police were maintaining a higher-than-usual presence at schools today in response to the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children, including a 6-year-old girl who used to live in Mira Mesa, San Diego Unified School District officials said.

San Diego police were maintaining a higher-than-usual presence at schools today in response to the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children, including a 6-year-old girl who used to live in Mira Mesa, San Diego Unified School District officials said.

Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, then went to the school and fatally shot five adults and 20 children before killing himself Friday, according to Connecticut authorities.

Since then, San Diego Unified School District police, San Diego police and community resource officers have been dropping by campuses, school police Chief Rueben Littlejohn said at a news conference that followed a meeting at City Hall.

"The collaboration has never been better,'' he said.

Littlejohn said his department has been working on campus security plans with the San Diego police, the county Office of Education, charter schools that operate under the district's umbrella and neighboring school districts. He said the department also checked in with Newtown police.

"We’ve been in contact with the officers in Connecticut, those on the ground level," he said. "We recognize now that the plans we have in place worked for that school, in that there would have been more lives lost had those plans not already existed. And we have those same plans in place (in San Diego)."

Littlejohn said no plan can guarantee violence will be thwarted. Still, he said it is critical teachers and staff train and do drills to ensure they know how to react in an emergency

Within about a month, San Diego police will have the ability to monitor live video from schools, police Chief William Lansdowne said.

Mayor Bob Filner meeting with City Officials to discuss school safety.

Mayor Bob Filner said he convened this morning's meeting because he's only been in office for two weeks and wanted know how police and school officials would handle an active shooter on a San Diego campus.

"Have we taken all the steps as a city to assure our parents that their kids are going to school safely, and assure the children that they're going to be in a safe environment,'' Filner said. "I wanted to make sure that we're all unified in this, that we're unified together.''

The mayor said he was assured police and school officials were doing all they could -- without having to be asked.

SDUSD Superintendent Bill Kowba said about 200 counselors and psychologists were prepared to discuss the Connecticut massacre with students who wanted to talk about it. A crisis response team was standing by in case there was "a particular need at a given campus or campuses'' the rest of this week.

San Diego police Assistant Chief Boyd Long said most mass killings could be stopped if people were more vigilant in reporting their suspicions to police.

"So we're really here today to reach out to the public and ask for your help,'' Long said. "Your help is, if you see someone, or know someone, or hear something -- say something to somebody, whether its a school representative, the San Diego Police Department, the school police department, or through a variety of resources available to the general public.''

The number of emergency calls routed to SDPD dispatchers that involve someone with a psychological issue has increased 53 percent since 2008, according to Long.

Psychologist Michael Mantell said signs to watch for in other people include an inability to connect socially, a lack of acceptance of responsibility and an absence of a roadmap for life. Someone who is simply a loner is not psychologically unstable, he said.

A 24-hour crisis hotline is available at (888) 724-7240.

One of the students killed in Newtown was 6-year-old Avielle Richman, a first-grader who used to live in Mira Mesa. A family blog described her cross- country move this past spring.

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