Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 24, 2013

APD: Safety a priority on annual trip to D.C.

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

ASHLAND — With last week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon and the ensuing drama that held the city and surrounding towns hostage, it’s understandable parents might be a bit jittery about allowing their children to leave for a four-day trip to the nation’s capital.

That’s particularly true in light of the fact many of the approximately 200 fifth- and sixth-graders who will be going on the Ashland Police Department’s annual school Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C., have likely never been away from home before without their parents, said APD Maj. Mark McDowell, who serves as commander of the team that oversees the journey.

While McDowell said he didn’t blame parents for being apprehensive in the wake of the events in Boston, he said there’s really no reason for them to be concerned for their children’s safety on the trip.

For one thing, he said, the trip, which is in its 47th year, is as well-oiled a machine as one is every likely to find. Activities are carefully planned, the youngsters are closely supervised and their every move is monitored by teachers and chaperones. There’s also a police officer on each bus, and a medical team accompanies the group and is available in the event a child becomes ill.

“Never have we flown by the seat of our pants on this trip,” said McDowell, who’s in his seventh year as team leader and will be making the trip for the 28th year.

Additionally, McDowell said, there are contingencies in place in case anything should not go as planned. And, over the years, he said, the APD has developed close contacts with law enforcement in Washington, and those contacts relay information to the APD about possible threats.

“If there was ever anything that would cause concern for safety, I would not hesitate to push the red button” and call off the trip, he said.

A total of 209 youngsters are signed up for this year’s trip, down slightly from last year because Holy Family School only sends students every other year, McDowell said. They’re scheduled to depart May 1 and return May 5.

A patrol trip has never been canceled because of safety concerns. However, for two years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, students went to Colonial Williamsburg, Va., rather than Washington.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.