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Natchez police to up presence at schools

NATCHEZ — Officials with the City of Natchez plan to increase police presence at schools and bolster safety in the neighborhoods surrounding schools.

The initiative follows a request on behalf of Cathedral School by the Rev. David O’Connor, who is priest at St. Mary Basilica and superintendent of the school, for police presence during the school’s student drop-off and pick-up times.

O’Connor said parents have recently voiced concerns and perhaps even fear about safety in the school’s neighborhood, following a recent incident during which gunfire was reported, as well as general concerns about speeding drivers.

The school, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Street, has approximately 670 students and 100 faculty members, O’Connor said, and for a brief time each morning and afternoon, a high volume of traffic exists with parents dropping off and picking up students. O’Connor requested that a Natchez police officer be present during student drop-off and pick-up as a deterrent for possible “unthinking behavior” and to alleviate parents’ concerns.

O’Connor said he is unsure of city ordinances in place that encourage safe school neighborhoods, but suggested city officials could look into whether any ordinances in place are being enforced.

On Wednesday, Mayor Darryl Grennell said he met with newly appointed Interim Natchez Police Shawn T. King about the matter.

The police department now plans to conduct extra patrols at all schools within the city limits throughout the day, King said.

Natchez police will also have a police car stationed at Cathedral School during student drop-off times in the mornings and pick-up in the afternoon.

King said the police department provides traffic control during these times at other schools as well.

In addition to serving as a deterrent for speeders, King said police presence may also help ease concerns he has heard about people walking near schools and pestering parents waiting for their children.

Additionally, Grennell said the city is looking into ordinances already in place that prohibit the sale of individual alcoholic beverages, a single beer for example, within 200 feet of a school and whether businesses are abiding by those ordinances.

Both Cathedral and Natchez Freshman Academy on Lynda Lee Drive have nearby convenience stores that sell alcoholic beverages.

O’Connor said Thursday he greatly appreciates the police department’s support at the school.

“I think it will help greatly, and I appreciate it very much,” he said.

O’Connor said Cathedral has been fortunate in that the school has had little to no problems with safety during times that children are being dropped off or picked up at school.

“The parents and teachers do a good job organizing people, and folks know the limits and where they can park,” he said. “I want to be very respectful of the neighborhood. It’s been a happy neighborhood for us, and I hope that in turn the school has been a good neighbor. Even if we are a bit of a nuisance with the traffic, I hope at least (the neighbors) see that the school is doing their job and raising a generation (of children) and preparing them for life, and there is at least some consolation in that.”

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