FORT WORTH -- New faces will be joining elementary school children citywide when they head to school for the new school year in August.In each of the city's elementary schools, Code Blue volunteer citizens - the eyes and ears of the Fort Worth Police Department, and a crucial tool in reducing crime - will be patrolling everything from the hallways to the neighborhoods nearby to make sure local children are safe."When our children see these faces ... they are going to be smiling with the comfort that these residents are looking out for him," Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead said Friday, in announcing the new school security initiative. "This is a partnership venture and it is guaranteed to be successful."This local effort is among countless safety initiatives offered by law enforcers and educators nationwide, in the wake of the horrific Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six educators dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Proposals in Texas and local communities, for instance, have ranged from arming teachers to installing buzzers and camera systems in the main entrances of schools.Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price touted this as a "creative plan" that could help make many people feel more comfortable about the safety of local schoolchildren."Nothing is more important than the safety of our children," she said. "I'm excited about this partnership. I truly think this is the way to go."On Friday, Halstead, Price and Fort Worth Superintendent Walter Dansby were joined by dozens of Code Blue members and other officials at the Rosemont Elementary School, for a press conference to announce the new school safety plan - one they hope can become a national model for campus security.Halstead the idea came to him while he was among those nationwide going over what happened in Connecticut. "They had every since precaution in place," he said. "There was nothing they didn't do right."Then he realized that the best way to make local schools safer was to do the same thing that made the city itself safer decades ago -- encourage local residents to help patrol, keep an eye on things and report any suspicious activities or behavior, as they began doing when Code Blue was created."In trying to look at how to keep our schools safe, all we need to look at is ourselves," he said.He said he focused on elementary schools because "we have security and safety at middle and high schools."In the coming months, police and Code Blue members hope to attract more volunteers to help with patrols throughout the city and schools, potentially growing the organization by 50 percent in the next five years.Volunteer citizens already go through training ranging from legal liabilities and communications to patrol procedures and the penal code to prepare for their neighborhood patrols. They will undergo even more training -- and background checks -- to patrol local schools.All the details should be worked out, and the program fine-tuned, so that it's ready to kick off in full force in August, with the beginning of the new school year, Halstead said.As while patrolling neighborhoods, they will not carry weapons but they will have radios they can use to alert police to any problems or suspicious behaviors. Members do not confront or arrest potential law-breakers."With their radios and training, we can literally be summoned within seconds," Halstead said.Some members may drive the neighborhoods around schools, and around the school itself, to make sure the outer perimeter is safe. Others will walk and patrol in and around the school, walking through playgrounds, hall ways, cafeterias and more."We want each elementary school to have a dedicated team and see the same faces," Halstead said.Dansby said this plan will let the community help safeguard local schools."There's no limit to what we can accomplish if we all work together," he said. "The key is teamwork."Anna M. Tinsley, (817) 390-7610Twitter: @annatinsley
To learn more about Code Blue, call 817-392-4120 or look online at www.fortworthpd.com.