Options are now on the table for armed security at each Newtown public school, Chief Michael Kehoe told the Police Commission Tuesday night. But without the number of new officers they wanted to put on the ground, some commissioners said they worry not only about Newtown's schools, but its streets.
First Selectman Pat Llodra has proposed five options for the future of school security in Newtown. The first would create a new position, called a School Security Officer, a sworn officer who would work only during the school year.
"I would look at that as a unique position, maybe for a retired officer who is certified and willing to be re-certified every three years," said Kehoe. "We have to kind of craft this so they understand the responsibilities are specific to this program."
The second would involve a combination of traditional school resource officers -- police incorporated into the curriculum -- and school security officers. In the third option, the department would add four officers to the department, then decide how to use them from there.
"I'm sure someone would be assigned to schools," said Kehoe. "But we could use them year-round for a variety of things."
The fourth option would specifically add four SROs to schools. The fifth, which Kehoe called "the least attractive of the five," would call for private armed security guards in schools. Some police officials have expressed concern about this measure.
But none of the options included 11 new police officers for the department, which the commission had suggested in a previous meeting. That disappointed commissioners, who listed a litany of reasons they felt the town is in need of more police. Commission chair Paul Mangiafico said he did not expect to end up with 11 new officers, a number he had championed.
"Obviously the agency is completely overloaded right now," said Mangiafico.
Kehoe said he wasn't sure the how many officers the department could end up with under the security plan, but he agreed with Mangiafico -- it likely wouldn't be 11. And he said his officers were definitely facing unprecedented challenges on the job.
"There's no doubt about it," he said, "Our officers are being tasked with many responsibilities beyond their normal work days. And we know there's a risk at work with that."
Numbers told a stark story about how thinly stretched the department has been since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. For example, on an average month in 2012 the department may see between 900 and 1,000 routine traffic stops in Newtown, said Mangiafico. In January, officers produced only 25.
"And it's not that we have officers sitting around doing nothing," said Mangiafico. "Look at these items ... There's something significant happening. And I think we all know what it is."
Another startling number: an average 65 monthly traffic enforcement reports in 2012 dropped to only two in January.
"When you have a lot of activity on the street, the police officers and officers on patrol are very visible," said commission member Joel Faxon. "Obviously the visibility is an important portion of crime deterrence in the community, so people are aware we're out there and things are being watched. I think these numbers only bolster the position of the board that we need additional personnel above and beyond what is necessary."
At the same time, overtime costs are adding up.
"The impact of the incident in December has had a very dramatic impact, to the tune they're about 5 times higher than they would normally be," said Mangiafico.
From an average of $9,000 to $12,000 before the incident, he said, they've reached $75,000 in January and $67,000 in February. While the department has said Newtown officers are facing overworking, part of the overtime bill reaches outside Newtown. Commission member Joel Faxon said the town has started paying officers from other towns, originally provided freely to help relieve the burden after Dec. 14.
And Mangiafico said officers aren't as free to provide private coverage for events, which could hurt town revenue.
"So the cost of this is becoming astronomical," he said.
Officials are trying to set details in stone before the 2013-2014 town budget reaches the Legislative Council on March 14. At a meeting Thursday, First Selectman Pat Llodra said funds for school security could be taken from a contingency account.