After Sandy Hook Shootings, Dads Step Up Security

The national group WATCH D.O.G.S. organizes fathers to volunteer to provide security in their children's schools. After Sandy Hook, the group's strategy didn't change. Some Watchdogs say they've just become even more vigilant.

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After the Newtown shootings, some suggested that schools look to local volunteers to beef up security. One national organization has been doing that for years. It's called Watch D.O.G.S., and it organizes fathers to volunteer in their children's schools. After Sandy Hook, the group's strategy didn't changed. Some Watchdogs say they've just become even more vigilant. NPR's Sam Sanders has this report.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Like school principals all over the country, Michelle Wise sprung into action after Sandy Hook.

MICHELLE WISE: We did an immediate staff meeting the following Monday to review lockdown procedures and talk about changes and mandate that all our doors are locked. Every classroom.

SANDERS: Wise also asked police to increase patrols on her campus. But Wise's school, Mayflower Elementary in Monrovia, California, has another force on the beat - dads, like Steven Cheng.

STEVEN CHENG: Hello, how we doing? Good morning.

SANDERS: On a chilly Southern California morning, Cheng is watching the parking lot, greeting cars as parents drop off their kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

SANDERS: Steven Cheng is a member of Watch D.O.G.S. The dogs stands for Dads of Great Students. Watch D.O.G.S. organizes fathers and father figures to help out in their kid's schools. During his shifts, Cheng is there, observing everything - mingling with the staff in the front office, walking the perimeter of campus, even standing watch over the morning school assembly.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ready, begin.

ASSEMBLY: I'm a member of the Mayflower community. I will be (unintelligible) and cooperative...

SANDERS: And the singing of the Mayflower school song.

ASSEMBLY: (Singing) We are the Mariners, we think we're awesome, we think we're mighty fine. We're gonna really shine. We get our schoolwork done, learning is...

CHENG: You know, most times, nothing happens, and that's the way we like it. Anything unusual, you know, that's what we're looking for.

SANDERS: This is Cheng's first year as a Watch D.O.G. His daughter Maya just started kindergarten at the school. And after Sandy Hook, he stepped up his involvement.

CHENG: For example, I'm here usually two hours a day on Wednesdays. I was here, let's say, nine, ten, six hours for four days.

SANDERS: Watch D.O.G.S. was founded after another school shooting, one in Jonesboro, Arkansas, that killed five in 1998. Now, more than 2,500 schools are active in the program in 42 states. And for a long time, they went quietly about their work - until Sandy Hook. After the shooting, the NRA mentioned the group during a press conference advocating armed guards in all schools. Then the phones started ringing, with people asking if Watch D.O.G.S. themselves might one day carry guns.

ERIC SNOW: When I'm asked the question on whether or not we would want our Watch D.O.G. volunteers to be armed guards, the answer is absolutely not.

SANDERS: Eric Snow is the executive director of Watch D.O.G.S. He says their job is just to be there. In fact, he can't point to any instance where Watch D.O.G.S.'s volunteers have been involved in an actual physical altercation. And that's the way it should be, according to Ann Harkins. She's CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council, the folks behind McGruff the Crime Dog. She says most of what parents can do to protect schools isn't like the movies. It involves planning, not shootouts or epic takedowns of bad guys.

ANN HARKINS: It's not about romance or drama. It's about protecting our kids.

SANDERS: And at Mayflower Elementary, the Watch D.O.G.S. are doing just that, even if the work is a bit mundane. Their big project right now? Raising money to make the school's fence more secure. Whatever he's asked to do, Steven Cheng says he'll be there. And he thinks that will be enough.

CHENG: You know, if I was a guy with bad intentions, if I just saw one father at the school that I was planning to visit and maybe do bad things, I would think twice.

SANDERS: Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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