New radios give Janesville schools direct link to police

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Nico Savidge
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

JANESVILLE—Before this year, if someone at a Janesville school needed police for an emergency such as an active shooter, they had to call 911.

That process is fast, officials say, but it still requires time to speak with a call taker, who must then relay that information to a dispatcher, who then tells police.

A new initiative between police and the city's schools—introduced after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year—aims to cut a few steps out of that process by giving schools police radios they can use to call for help.

Called Project Direct Connect, it's meant to get police to the scene of the worst school emergencies in as little time as possible, Sgt. Brian Donohoue said.

“We're hoping to save some precious seconds because as soon as it's put over the air it's an immediate response,” Donohoue said.

The radios are the same as those officers use, and are now in every Janesville school—public, charter and parochial—save for one, officials say. The last school should get its radio by the end of this month, Donohoue said.

With the push of a button, school administrators are in radio contact with every officer on duty, said Yolanda Cargile, who oversees the program for the School District of Janesville.

The radios are kept in office areas where multiple people can have access to them, though the locations vary by school and officials are wary of being specific.

In the event of an emergency, officials are told to use a radio to get police, then call 911 to provide further information such as suspect descriptions, officials said. The schools would then continue with the lockdown plans they already have in place.

“It's a short, simple message, then you get off to allow the police department to do their jobs,” Cargile said. “It doesn't replace any of our procedures.”

Authorities introduced the project in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, and began putting the radios into schools at the start of this year after training, Donohoue said.

One of the most important aspects of the training focused on when the radios should—and shouldn't—be used, Donohoue said. They're not for medical emergencies or unruly students, he said.

“There's only one circumstance when you would ever use that: an imminent threat,” Donohoue said.

Janesville police Chief David Moore said the program's total cost was $19,965, with police covering one half and schools the other.

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