Public school security improving, officials say

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2002

Vicksburg Warren School District law enforcement official Mike Ouzts stands in the hallway of Vicksburg High School Wednesday where a surveillance camera, in left hand corner, is used to monitor the school for safety. (The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[11/0702]Better security is working for public schools here, the superintendent and the schools’ full-time law enforcement officer say.

Two years ago, the Vicksburg Warren School District added former deputy sheriff and state wildlife agent Mike Ouzts to the staff.

In addition to a complete inventory being performed on school property, cameras, monitoring systems and new alarm systems were placed in each school in the 9,000-student district.

“Schools are targets more than they used to be, people are concerned about kids,” Superintendent Donald Oakes said. “We need to have an atmosphere as safe as possible, and having cameras and law enforcement helps do that.”

Many school districts in Mississippi have an armed, full-time police presence on campuses, especially high school campuses. While that was discussed for Vicksburg, an alternate approach is being taken.

Elliott Flaggs, 17, Vicksburg High School senior class president, said the surveillance cameras in the schools should make everyone feel a lot safer.

“With school shootings, cameras are needed for safety. You don’t know what is going on in people’s minds, how they’ll react to certain things,” Flaggs said. “It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Ouzts said he can monitor any school at any time from his home or office.

“We can track every time any school is opened or closed,” Ouzts said. “If someone is in a building at 2 a.m. we want to know why.”

Ouzts, who was named officer of the year when he was with the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said every time a school alarm goes off, it automatically rings his pager and lets him know where it is.

“I know before 911 knows,” he said. “We can tell if it’s a person setting the alarms off or a bird.”

Ouzts said he thinks the security measures are a crime deterrent all by themselves, but minor crimes have been detected by the cameras.

An arson fire caused more than $1 million in damage at Vicksburg High School five years ago. Today, however, vandalism is down.

“Most people realize the cameras are there, and that alone stops a lot,” Ouzts said. “We’ve had people stealing things like VCRs and TVs, but we go back and look at the tapes and it’s taken care of.”

Ouzts said that a good working relationships with law enforcement officers helps keep order.

“The kids’ behavior for the most part is good and we handle most things ourselves, but it is nice to know that if we need help we get it right away,” Ouzts said. “The sheriff and police departments and 911 really do a great job of communicating with us.”

Vicksburg High School Principal Charlie Tolliver said communication is the key to safety.

“Relationships are very important when it comes to safety. We have to have good communication with faculty, students, parents and law enforcement,” Tolliver said. “That’s where Mike does a good job he closes those gaps.”

Oakes said the precautions are a direct response to what is going on in society.

“Schools didn’t start this, these are things that started from society and came into the schools,” he said. “We are responding to changes in our society to make sure students are safe.”