Discussions about security in schools move forward in Roanoke

Security chief Chris Perkins gives update on strategies, in-school officers

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke leaders are continuing to take steps to keep children safe at school.

There were more discussions Monday between school board members, City Council members and the city’s new chief of security, Chris Perkins, who’s in his first full week on the job. They’re looking at making sure schools are prepared for a worst-case scenario dealing with an intruder.

Perkins said he’s still evaluating each school before proposing specific actions but his main priority is to make sure everyone is as prepared as possible on the best procedures for handling emergencies.

“This is a debate about 'what if it happens,'” Perkins said.

The City Council on Monday is expected to approve the addition of four more sheriff’s deputies to serve in schools as D.A.R.E. program officers, bringing the total to eight.

"We want our schools safe. Security is what I was thinking about when I voted,” Mayor Sherman Lea said.

Perkins said, additionally, more school resource officers could be a good idea, adding that managing the overall cost of any project will be important but it’s not the highest priority.

“We will never take a chance with safety for a child because of tax dollars and I think every council member and school board member are dedicated to that premise,” he said.

One of his specific ideas is to make sure the school’s offices are close to the entrances.

“Administrators need to know who's in their schools. They become the parents for these children in the absence of their parents,” he said.

He said he believes school resource officers are there for security and to build relationships with the students, not to take disciplinary action. That belief is a part of his larger strategy to make sure schools do not feel like prisons.

“Our children need to be educated and it needs to be conducive to learning. The things we do have to accomplish that,” he said.

10 News asked his opinion on metal detectors which some schools around the country are installing. Perkins said he doesn’t think those are the answer but he’ll continue evaluating what needs to be done.

“The last thing that I want is for our schools to look like a fortress,” Perkins said.

Councilwoman Michelle Dykstra said she thinks many children don’t have the opportunity to get to know members of law enforcement, which leads to her hope that security doesn’t become overwhelming.

“I appreciate that the school system is looking into what it can do to be a part of that conversation to make our students more comfortable with law enforcement,” she said.

Perkins said he will submit recommendations to the school board as he continues to determine the best strategies.

Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Dr. Rita Bishop said she’s, "Very pleased. It was his first charge, was to check everything about our plans.”

Perkins was the Roanoke City Police Chief from 2010 until he retired in 2016. He has 24 years of experience in law enforcement.