Hastings Police Chief Jeff Pratt became chief four years ago with the retirement of former Chief Jerry Sarver. He came in with the philosophy of community policing which stresses building relationships with the public and schools. All of the officers are encouraged to be out of their cars more and interacting with the people they serve.
One initiative, the Hastings Police Cadet program with students from Hastings schools, is in its fourth year, productive and changing lives, Pratt says, “because we teach them to give back to the community. That was taught to me by Chief Sarver, I just use my approach to it.”
A school liaison officer, dormant for years because of cost, was reactivated with approval of the Hasting City Council. Sgt. Kris Miller is in the schools, interacting with youngsters, building trust of the police. He carries on with that with kids around town during his shift. “Kris is genuine with kids; you have to be, if you’re not, they see right through you,” Pratt said.
The first National Night Out in Hastings held last year drew 1,500 people. “The night is to show people the firefighters and police and ambulance personnel who are on call for them every day,” said Deputy Chief Dale Boulter, organizer of the event. “It builds on the police-community partnership, and lets the people meet and talk to emergency services personnel in a casual setting.” A second National Night Out is set for this year for Aug. 7 with expanded hours.
Pratt responded Thursday to several questions on school safety:
Do you favor teachers and others carrying guns in schools?
“No, so many bad things can happen,” he said. “I worry about how effective their training would be. Their focus is teaching and raising children, not training for an active shooter. I definitely have concerns about teachers or administrators carrying guns.”
Would you put police officers in schools?
“It would be great to have a full-time officer in every school building.”
Do you support a proposed state law mandating schools work with law enforcement on school security to qualify for funding for upgrades?
“Hastings Schools and the police department are currently doing that, especially this year with the bomb threats, which I think come from the school shootings.
“The police department and Hastings Schools have a good relationship. Superintendent Duits held a community forum to get different views and ideas from the public on student safety and invited us.”
What was the outcome of the forum?
“It was good; we listened to them. There were helpful ideas that we’re working on. It demonstrated the need for the public to step up if they want some of these changes. It may take passing a bond issue to get that.”
What do you think is the root cause of school shootings?
“There are numerous causes, and there is no one answer. It all comes down to mental health. Access to treatment has been declining through the years. My hope is that more people can get help when they need it.”
Do you see any positive signs?
“Yes, Hastings schools have done a good job of increasing the number of counselors and area schools have done a good job of protecting entrances, and that’s part of making schools safe.
“With the forum, I think we have community buy in and hopefully, it will provide bond issues for needed facility updates that are all part of student safety.
“When people think about student safety, they automatically think about active shooters, but it is so much more than that. I consider it an ongoing dialogue with schools.
“We’ll keep working on it, not only in schools. We work with businesses, and we’re training our own here at City Hall.
“We’ll just keep fighting the fight, hoping that something like this never happens here, but still being realistic that it may happen here.”