Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies stepped up their presence at school campuses Monday in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut.

At Los Angeles Unified schools, police will spend an hour each day on K-8 campuses - a half-hour every morning and afternoon - as part of Operation Embrace, a way to reassure the public that school safety is a top priority.

Los Angeles Unified police already are stationed full time at the district's high schools, and the agency's officers also patrol K-8 schools on a daily basis.

"We want to reaffirm, re-establish and engage with the youth in our community," said LAPD Lt. Cory Palka, who works out of the LAPD's Valley Division and helped create the Operation Embrace deployment plan for the region's 452 elementary and middle schools.

Over the next several weeks - no one knows yet how long the operation will last - patrol officers, detectives and administrators will add walk-and-talk school visits to their everyday duties.

The additional patrols were announced on Dec. 17 by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and school Superintendent John Deasy, who said they wanted to reassure parents that school is the most secure place their kids can be during the day.

In the South Bay, police welcomed students back from winter break with a continuation of increased presence around campuses.

Among the school districts benefiting from beefed-up patrols was the K-12 Manhattan Beach Unified School District, whose main high school and middle school have long had city-financed school resource officers on hand.

In addition to those officers, patrol units have been making regular stops at the district's K-12 schools ever since the tragedy in Connecticut. The officers are occasionally walking onto the campuses, said police Officer Stephanie Martin.

"Many of us are parents as well," she said. "We totally understand what their feelings and fears are."

But at least as important as a beefed-up police presence is adequate preparation on the part of individual schools for an active-shooter scenario. This is the weak area that needs to be better addressed throughout California and beyond, Martin said.

Even though California law requires schools to conduct regular drills for fires and earthquakes, the same requirements aren't in place for the school lockdowns meant to minimize the carnage of the nightmarish school-shooter cases, she said.

"Everybody is well prepared for earthquakes and fires, but that's not what's killing our kids," Martin said. "The last time a child burned in a school fire was in Chicago, 50 or 60 years ago."

Martin suspects society is a little unnerved by the idea of preparing for shooter situations, but she said people need to get over that fear.

"The mind-set that lockdown drills are going to scare children is nonsense," she said. "There are adequate ways to proactively prepare schools' staff and children without scaring them. And you must."

She added that the schools in Manhattan Beach Unified actually do conduct regular lockdown drills. Generally, these consist of an unplanned announcement via loudspeaker that a lockdown drill is under way. Students are then required to head straight to the nearest classroom, even if it isn't their own.

Law enforcement also offered the patrols to charter and private schools in the LAUSD, and dozens of campuses signed up.

At one Woodland Hills parochial school, the principal welcomed an LAPD officer for about two hours. The emergency services officer toured the campus and offered kudos for security precautions and suggestions for making them better.

Parents and students alike were "excited and very happy" to have the LAPD at school, the principal said.

However, the grass-roots Community Rights Campaign decried the armed campus patrols, raising concerns about the civil rights and emotional well-being of students and their families. 

"The best response to the Connecticut tragedy would consist of nonviolent short- and long-term interventions that make profound shifts in education, culture and school climate, that are restorative, preventative and that allocate resources to holistic and mental health services tailored to the specific needs of LAUSD's school communities," the group said in a statement.

barbara.jones@dailynews.com, rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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