By John Kline Goshen News

GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen school board members will consider a collaboration plan with the Goshen Police Department to improving law enforcement response time to any future school emergencies.

According to Diane Woodworth, superintendent for Goshen Community Schools, her office was recently approached by the Goshen Police Department about collaborating on a new safety and security communication system known as SchoolGuard.

“The county was trying to do a similar system a couple years ago, and it kind of fell apart and never did work out. And so we’re real excited about this one. I think it has a lot of promise,” Woodworth said in introducing the collaborative effort Monday.

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who is helping to spearhead the collaboration, offered a similar sentiment.

“Since I’ve been in office, one thing that I wanted to make sure we were working hard on was safety of the kids. School safety is high on our priority list. So we’ve been looking for a couple years now at different programs, and finally found one,” Stutsman said of the program. “We think it’s going to be an excellent opportunity to get our police officers to schools much quicker if it’s ever needed. And my greatest hope is that every dollar we spend on this is wasted, and that we never have to find out if it works. But we are very interested in it.”

The program is described as an app that can be downloaded onto the cellphones of police officers, teachers and administrators that then serves as a kind of “panic button” in cases of emergency.

With a push of the button, a 911 call is immediately sent and all teachers and staff are notified of the threat. In addition, all federal, state and local law enforcement officers, both on and off duty, who have the software installed and are located within 10 to 20 miles of the incident, are also notified.

“What we’re concerned about most is just the timeliness of officers being able to get to a scenario unfolding quickly. And if you had to ask any officer on our police department what keeps us up at night thinking about this stuff, it’s how quickly we get there, because seconds matter,” said Shawn Turner, assistant police chief with the Goshen Police Department. “This, I think, is not only one of the better programs we’ve been introduced to, but we’ve also had agencies in some of the surrounding counties — Kosciusko County for one — that have gone to this system and are actively trying to get it into more schools. So there will be some uniformity, not only with us, but with some of the surrounding counties. And it actually brings in law enforcement nationwide. So this has been tested, and I believe it’s a working system that everyone can feel comfortable with.”

Goshen Police Chief Jose Miller agreed, noting that he has used the software on his own cellphone for several years.

“I personally have this on my phone and have for a long time. What it does is, we’re able to download it to our phones, and we’re required to show our police IDs and badge credentials before they approve us to be on the system,” Miller said of the program, which is free to police officers. “It reaches out to any law enforcement officer who is on the system — that could be local, state or federal officers. And if the panic button is activated, if you’re within a 10 to 20 mile radius of this incident, it will alert your phone, and it will tell the location where it’s at, it will tell you the time the incident started, it will tell you the address and it will also show you a map of where that activation occurred at on that premises. It also allows us officers the opportunity to say we’re going to respond in uniform or in plain clothes, depending on where we’re at.”

And to prevent accidental activation, Turner noted that the system is anchored around the associated schools with geofencing, meaning the system cannot be activated when a phone with the app is not on school property.

According to Stutsman, he has been working with the city’s budget and anticipates being able to pay for the installation of the software on the cellphones of all teachers within the Goshen Community Schools system as well as the city’s two private schools, Bethany Christian Schools and St. John the Evangelist Catholic School.

“The city of Goshen will pay for the upgrade of the software and for the installation. We’ll just need the schools to commit to paying for the monthly fees,” Stutsman said. “But we truly do think it’s going to be great.”

Stutsman noted that the purchase of the software would probably come in the form of a two- to three-year agreement, the particulars of which have not yet been solidified given that the school board was only notified of the effort Monday.

“The longer you sign, the cheaper the monthly expenses get. So that would definitely help the schools,” Stutsman said of the plan. “I’ve got a set budget that I know I can use once we know the installation costs. If there is extra money in those lines, I’m going to use it for the first however many months I can of the school expenses. I just don’t know how far that will go until we hear the exact expenses.”

For her part, Woodworth said it is her intention to bring the partnership agreement between GCS and the Goshen Police Department back before the board for consideration at a future meeting.

“We’ve been looking for something like this, and I cannot say enough good things about the positive relationship we have with Goshen City and the Goshen Police Department,” Woodworth said in concluding the presentation Monday. “We greatly appreciate all of you. So it is our intention to move forward with this.”

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