Los Angeles police have joined with local schools in an effort to better protect children walking home after school and to safeguard schools from vandals and theft.
The school district and police officials have started a neighborhood school watch program that includes special "safe houses" to provide a refuge for children when they feel endangered walking to and from school.
The program, which will operate at various campuses throughout the Los Angeles school system, has run on a trial basis at Kittridge Street and Erwin Street elementary schools in Van Nuys, where more than 30 locations were designated as safe houses.
Residents and business owners are recruited by their neighborhood school to serve as volunteers and have their houses or businesses set up as safe houses, officials said.
Volunteers must fill out applications that are then reviewed by police for background safety checks. Once a volunteer is approved, a special "Safe House" sign is placed in a front window for children to see.
School officials tell students where the safe houses are located. Safe house volunteers are also encouraged to keep a watchful eye on their neighborhood schools and to report vandals, officials said.
Nancy Oda, principal of Hubbard Street Elementary School, said safe houses are needed especially for young children. Oda recounted an incident last month when two loose dogs were barking at and jumping on pedestrians on a main route used by students.
"If there was a safe house close by, the children would've been able to go there," Oda said. "It was really evident that the children were really helpless at that point."
Oda plans to begin the program at her Sylmar school. "The goal is to have as many houses as possible for the children," she said. "We want them to be as safe as possible."