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Proactive policing Naming of new school security chief offers a chance to build relationships

The people who run the Buffalo Public Schools and the people who are in charge of the Buffalo Police Department say they already play well with each other. But it was still a good idea for the city to designate an experienced police officer as the new chief of school safety and security.

Lt. Kevin J. Brinkworth is now Chief Brinkworth, snatched from his post as a patrol lieutenant and given the task of building stronger ties between, on the one hand, the schools' administrators and their own security staff and, on the other hand, the police who are sometimes called to quell acts of violence small and large on school campuses.

Brinkworth's appointment is correctly based less on a fear of schools as violent places and more on the realization that students who are involved in real or threatened acts of violence on school grounds may well have brought the fight with them from somewhere else in their lives or will be taking it back home again afterward. Or both.

There are no plans for large numbers of armed and uniformed police to roam the halls of the schools and take over the dispensation of discipline that is properly the job of the school's principal and his staff. There is a dedication to planning, coordination and what School Superintendent James A. Williams calls relationship building.

That will include such things as helping to train the schools' unarmed security staff and making sure police know the layout of school buildings. Williams notes that, when those two students opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado, they knew the location of all the entrances, exits and places to hide. The responding police officers that day did not.

But, in school and out, good police work is much more than just knowing where to shoot. It means getting to know people before the next crisis erupts, helping students to see that police officers are human and can be helpful, not just steely-eyed authority figures who groove on denying teenagers their fun.

If the first time a high school-age person ever speaks to a police officer is the night he or she gets busted, it may be too late to build a relationship of mutual respect instead of one that will always be antagonistic.

That is Chief Brinkworth's new job. The best of luck to him.

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