Incidents involving weapons on campus are handled by police, though Sgt. Josh Mecimore, spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said these incidents are rare.
He said his department responded to seven calls each in 2011 and 2012 that were classified as weapons on campus, though he cautioned that those numbers included some incidents at UNC. He said most incidents happened in middle and high schools and involved weapons such as pocketknives and razors.
Reports of guns on CHCCS campuses, he said, are rare, though there have been some well-publicized events in recent years — including a 2006 hostage event at East Chapel Hill High School and the fatal shooting of a woman at Mary Scroggs Elementary School May.
“I don’t think statistically that we’ve seen a marked increase in weapon related calls in Chapel Hill,” he said. “But I think that one weapon is probably too many.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he had been talking with CHCCS administration since the Newtown tragedy.
“We’ve always worked very closely with our school system,” Kleinschmidt said. “We work with them all the time, not just in the wake of these kinds of incidents.”
In December, Kleinschmidt signed a letter supporting gun regulation in response to the Newtown shooting. The letter, written by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, calls for background checks for gun buyers and restrictions on high capacity rifles, among other things.
Kleinschmidt said he worried potential statewide legislation might make it difficult for his office to govern weapons in Chapel Hill, citing efforts in recent years to expand areas for concealed carry permits.
“Every year around Halloween time, I issue an emergency declaration to take away pitchforks from devils and swords from pirates,” he said of security efforts at the town’s annual Homegrown Halloween event.
“If the devil can’t take his pitchfork onto the 100 block of Franklin Street, then someone shouldn’t be able to carry a gun there.”
As for school security since the Newtown shooting, Kleinschmidt said the relationship between CHCCS and police will be key.
“The high level of cooperation we have has done a great job of making sure our schools are as safe as they can be,” he said.
He added there should be a focus on getting schoolchildren comfortable around law enforcement.
Mecimore said the police department requires all officers in field training to spend time in Chapel Hill schools. Officers familiarize themselves with the school and participate in a reading program with children.
Michelle Brownstein, chairwoman of the CHCCS Board of Education, said she is confident the district’s security review will be thorough. While the board has not been approached by administration, she said members would look closely at the issue when it came to them.
A mother of four students in CHCCS schools, she added the events in Newtown hit close to home.
“Our hearts are heavy with this tragedy and I really feel strongly that we do whatever we can do,” she said. “We all need to hold our kids tight.”
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