Shooting straight: City agrees to establish official policy on when to tell schools about nearby gunfire

Shortly after a Downtown shootout unfolded as a local school was unwittingly dismissing students, Councilwoman Margaret Chin led a rally calling in the city to create guidelines for alerting schools to security threats nearby. Earlier this month, the city agreed.

BY COLIN MIXSON

The city has finally agreed to establish written protocols specifying how and when schools should be notified of emergencies in response to public outrage after a shooting that occurred near numerous Downtown schools that police never warned.

The new rules will help parents make better decisions in the event of a crisis, and give local lawmakers an idea of whether the city is doing enough to keep kids safe, according to a spokesman for Councilwoman Margaret Chin.

“It’s important to get that procedure in writing so parents know the best course of action,” said Paul Leonard.

At a June 1 meeting of representatives from the NYPD, Department of Education, Office of Emergency Management, and Community Board 1, along with Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Assemblywoman You-Line Niou, authorities agrees on the need to have clear, written protocols on school emergency notification.

The agencies came together following revelations that school security officers at PS 276 — located two blocks away from the April 24 shooting on Washington Street — were unaware of the nearby gunplay until a parent told them about it the following day.

The shooting — which left two people injured, including a bystander — occurred shortly after 3 pm, just when the bell rang at PS 276 to send kids home for the day. Because the police never notified the school, the students were sent on their way, despite the fact that the gunman was still on the loose in nearby streets.

Chin expressed grave concern that keeping the school in the dark could have lead to kids crossing paths with the gunman, Leonard said.

“Timing was incredibly crucial here, because it was just as schools were being let out,” Leonard said. “That’s why we need to see this stuff in writing, so we know if things like time of day are considered when it comes to informing schools of an event like this.”

At the time, there was no standard protocol for when or whether to notify schools of nearby gunplay — and even seemed to be confusion about who was responsible for making that decision.

Shortly after the shooting, a spokesman for the police department told this paper that the decision to notify schools was handled on a case-by-case basis, with the highest ranking officer at the scene of the crime making the call.

At the June 1 meeting, however, the second in command of the NYPD’s School Safety Division, Deputy Chief Charles Rubin, said the decision ultimately falls to his unit’s commanding officer, Assistant Chief Brian Conroy, according to Paul Hovitz, Community Board 1’s vice chairman and representative at the meeting.

Rubin went on to explain that the department did notify a Universal Pre-K located on Washington Street directly adjacent to the shooting, but that the kids had already left before the shooting occurred, Hovitz said.

And Rubin said the decision not to inform other schools, including PS 276, was made because the shooter was known to have already fled into the subway, and away from area schools, according to Hovitz.

“The perp, as they say, went into the subway and got on a train, so, unless he was going to get off and come back, there was no danger,” Hovitz said.

Hovitz said he was overall pleased with the department’s decision making, and said that any faith lost following the shooting was restored during the meeting.

“I believe we ended the meeting feeling that there is trust, that they’re handling these situations properly and they’re making notifications when the police deem it to be necessary,” Hovitz said.

But Chin won’t be signing off on the department’s policy until she sees it spelled out clearly, Leonard said.

“She still has concerns about it,” Leonard said. “We want it in writing.”

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