The dozens of educators packed into a police station meeting room Wednesday had a lot of questions about how to protect their students.

But LAPD Capt. Tom Brascia made it clear he didn't have a lot of answers.

"I'm going to apologize ahead of time, but I'm not going to give you an answer," he told one woman who asked for better ways to barricade classrooms.

Brascia, commander of the Topanga Division for Los Angeles police, had his officers call schools from across his area and invite officials to a meeting after Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 students and six adults.

About 70 people, most of them principals or other school administrators, gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Topanga station in Canoga Park. They represented thousands of students in the southwestern San Fernando Valley.

Beginning the meeting, police chaplain Manuel Gonzales prayed for the wisdom "to know how to respond to this evil tragedy - so much so, Father, that it will not happen here." Then Brascia asked for a moment of silence in honor of the victims in Connecticut.

More than a dozen officers from the LAPD and the Los Angeles School Police took questions over more than 90 minutes. Several echoed Brascia, saying they didn't have answers because every school and every situation is different.

Even a question as basic as whether it's better to lock down classrooms or evacuate has no clear answer.


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Lock classrooms down, and the kids could make easy targets, Chief Steven Zipperman of the school police said. But have children run away, and they could be shot while escaping.

Despite the lack of clear advice, Brascia said he hopes the meeting begins a useful discussion that encourages everyone - principals, teachers, parents, police - to think ahead about school security.

Wednesday's meeting was sparked after a Topanga Division officer, Sean Dinse, asked Brascia for permission to go to his own children's school and talk about safety.

Brascia told Dinse that was fine but decided to also have a larger meeting.

The questions came faster than they could be answered: What can we learn from Newtown? What could the principal and psychologist there, who died confronting the gunman, have done differently? Could principals or teachers be equipped with portable panic buttons so they could summon police from anywhere, even after being shot?

Another question: Should we keep classroom doors unlocked for fire safety or locked to protect from intruders?

Unlocked is the district policy, Zipperman said - but sometimes, doors should be locked in emergencies.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city is doing all it can to keep students safe. Appearing on the Geraldo Rivera show on KABC-AM (790), he echoed LAPD Chief Charlie Beck's announcement that officers will make checks on every middle and elementary school in the city. (High schools are patrolled by the separate Los Angeles School Police.)

"You can never say never, obviously, in the world we live in with the lack of gun laws and the lack of investment in mental health," Villaraigosa said.

"I can tell you that our schools are safer than the neighborhoods they are in," he added. "And the city is safer than it has been in any time since 1952."

But it's not clear how long officers will be able to stay at the schools.

Levon Keshishian, an administrator at AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park, said it was comforting to see officers at the school this week. He added, "We are hoping that this is not a publicity stunt and that it's going to go on for a long time."

"I have to be candid: I don't know if we can sustain that, I really don't," Brascia said, adding that officers have been pulled from other units to check on schools.

There just aren't enough patrol officers to go to every school every day while responding to regular calls, he said.

In any case, officers can't be at a school all day.

In a shooting, Dinse said, police will be at a school within five minutes - sooner, perhaps. But in those first minutes, the safety and lives of students and adults in the schools could depend on how schools have prepared. 

Dinse told administrators to instruct teachers to practice locking doors so it becomes second nature and they can do it in an emergency even while panicking.

A grim certainty hung over the meeting: There will almost certainly be another school shooting, and no one knows where or when.

"Whether we think can this can happen in our schools or not, history keeps on repeating itself," Dinse said.


Staff writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report.

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