/ Modified dec 17, 2012 6 p.m.

Mental Health Officials on Alert in Old Pueblo

Tucson police increase school area patrols after Conn. shooting spree


Mental health care providers in the Tucson area said Monday they have noticed no increase in calls for assistance in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut.

But an official at the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corp. said the agency is available and accustomed to dealing with such situations. SAMHC, as it is known, provided much of the community and school-based counseling that occurred in the wake of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson.

Jennifer Fout, a crisis clinician at SAMHC, said the latest tragedy, in which 20 children and eight adults died, could add a layer of trauma for children and adults, refreshing their memories of the event.

Meanwhile, Tucson police say they are operating under enhanced visibility around schools in the city as a way of giving children, parents and teachers a better sense of security.


Officers with schools in their patrol areas have been ordered to be more visible around the schools as a response to fears in the wake of Friday's shooting tragedy, Tucson police Sgt. Maria Hawke said Monday.

“We felt that it was important for the city of Tucson parents, teachers, staff, pretty much all citizens to feel secure that not only have we not received any threats of this nature but we are going to be extra vigilant to make sure that we have a higher visibility or enhanced presence around schools pretty much until we determine that it was no longer needed,” Hawke said.

Police presence will be especially focused on mornings and afternoons, when children are being dropped off and picked up, Hawke said. She said all schools -- public and private -- are on the lists for officers' raised awareness.

She said police will determine if the higher visibility remains needed when school resumes after the winter break that starts in a few days.

She said police training was under way this week for handling the type of situation that occurred last week in Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in a school. The training was scheduled for this week before Friday's shooting.

In schools, emergency response plans are in place as required by state law, said Jean Agamie, director of school safety at the Arizona Department of Education. She said schools in the state are as prepared as they can be for major emergencies.

"So in response to this most recent tragic event is highlighting what is available and what has been available," Agamie said.

That includes materials provided by the state, which "go hand in hand with the training that we offer with the emergency management. It’s a two-day training course to help them in the development of a sound plan. Then they will take it back to their location and individualize the plan.”

Agamie saisd the state-mandated school safety program has been affected by budget cuts at public schools in Arizona.

In Arizona’s second largest school district, Tucson Unified, those cuts have also affected school counselors. Cara Rene, a spokeswoman with the district, said although there is not a counselor at every school in TUSD, there are resources available for students who need to talk about the shooting in Connecticut.

"So the district is working with all the schools to identify any issues and they’re there to answer questions," Rene said. "We have posted on the district’s website from the National Association of School Psychologists tips for teachers and parents on what to do when a national tragedy like this happens.”

TUSD officials are reviewing the district’s emergency response plans, Rene said.

“Obviously from the things that we went through here on Jan. 8, 2011, Tucsonans feel this maybe more strongly than other communities that haven’t been through something like that. We recognized that not just to students but also to their parents as well," she said.

TUSD was sending a letter home with students Monday to let parents know about the district's response to the shooting in Connecticut, including the increased presence of law enforcement around schools.

MORE: Arizona, News, Tucson
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