Backpacks in hand and books at the ready, thousands of children returned to Los Angeles schools on Monday after a winter break tinged with anxiety about the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school last month.
Waiting for them at many campuses were uniformed police officers, assigned by the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and law enforcement agencies from smaller municipalities, assigned to the schools to ease anxieties and implement new safety programs.
Their effort was underscored Monday morning by renewed worries for childrens' safety, after a Glendale elementary school was evacuated at about 9 a.m.
Police told NBC4 that a bomb threat had been made against the school, R.D. White Elementary School on Doran Street.
The children were taken to a Whole Foods Market at Glendale Avenue and Lexington Drive, and all had been accounted for, said Glendale police spokesman Tom Lorenz. No bomb was found.
At the LA Unified School District's Main Street Elementary School in Vernon, Sara Faden was one of several police officers who will stop at the campus three times per day for at least the next few months.
Her job, she said, would be to “make a relationship” with students, parents and teachers as part of a broader effort to keep schools safe.
“We want to be a presence,” Faden said. “We want to be a visibility here at the school and get to know our neighborhood.”
Similar scenes were repeated throughout the massive district, where police came to patrol about 600 elementary, middle and early learning campuses. School police already patrol the district’s high schools.
“We really want parents and community members to see that their community policing support is around them for extra security,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
Beyond easing frayed nerves after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 – for LAUSD students the last day of classes before winter break – it is not yet clear how the stepped-up patrols would impact student safety should a deranged killer gain access to a school.
Deasy and others have said that the police presence must be combined with school and family safety plans. Some, but not all, schools at the middle school level have metal detectors at the entrances, and the district has not yet said whether it will install them in additional locations.
It is also not certain how long the patrols will last. The cash-strapped LAPD has said it will evaluate the program over time, Deasy said.
LAPD Charlie Beck said that the goal at this point is "for every Los Angeles police officer to have a relationship with our elementary and middle schools, and to ensure that all of them get visited at least once a day."
But he conceded that the patrol visits might not be enough to prevent all dangerous incidents at school.
"It is a preventative measure," Beck said. "Is it 100%? Will it absolutely, positively prevent a horrific incident such as occurred in Connecticut? No. But nothing can."
Beck did not say how long he expected the program to last. Its longevity would depend in part on the needs of the campuses and the work loads of the officers, he said.
School board president Monica Garcia said she and other district officials have been working to find ways to help children feel safe since the killings in Newtown last month.
Today’s patrols, she said, are meant to do that.
“We have told the parents today the safety of their children is of the utmost importance,” Garcia said. “We have to work together. We have to build healthy relationships with parents, with students, with employees.”