The 2013-2014 Newtown Police Department budget proposal was drafted before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which spiked overtime pay for officers and drove public demand for safer schools. It will result in a significant impact on the town's bottom line, say officials, but emails from parents show many believe it's worth it.
One safety measure Police Commission Chairman Paul J. Mangiafico says town officials won't budge on is having a school resource officer (SRO) in every school. Currently, Newtown has SROs at Reed Intermediate School, Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School.
"The safety of the school children should never ever be related to an accounting issue, and I think the town will do what's right," Mangiafico said during Tuesday night's police commission meeting.
The Board of Selectmen will present a town budget with all of the proposed additions to the Board of Finance at a date to be announced.
Mangiafico said First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra is "anxiously awaiting" the completion of a comprehensive report from the town's Security Committee outlining what's needed to improve school security.
Chief Michael Kehoe said the committee is meeting once a week and discussing topics ranging from SROs, critical infrastructure and buildings to cameras and procedures.
'Whatever It Takes'
Commissioner Joel Faxon said "conservatively" he has received at least 30 emails, with "the vast majority from people with children in the schools," expressing unanimous support for SROs in every school — with some asking for two SROs in each school.
At a meeting of the Head O' Meadow PTA last week, parents voted 33-0 in favor of a resolution asking for at least two SROs at the school. Last week, parent Donna Lorenz told the Board of Education SROs -- especially in pairs -- were a must for schools.
"The only thing that stopped that guy that day was when the two Newtown police burst in the building," she said at Thursday's Board of Education meeting. "You all know that."
Another parent, Carla Barzetti, agreed.
"The so-called experts determined we don’t need more than one armed guard," she said at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, referring to experts who met with the Security Committee. "Have they taken into account that schools aren’t just buildings where people enter at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.? [T]he cemeteries are full of people who let experts tell them what to do."
Parents, including those at Head O' Meadow, have pledged to stand behind the town if costs prove controversial.
"The expression of support for the town, I think, is extraordinary," Faxon said. "Some are saying, 'Whatever it takes, we'll do it.'"
"I think some members of the Safety Committee are getting the same emails," Kehoe said. "And I'm sure it isn't lost on them."
Nevertheless, he said town officials are looking into whatever grants, gifts or contingencies may be available to offset budget costs.
Commissioner Brian Budd pointed out that Newtown's police force is already down two officers and one civilian employee — positions lost over the past few years.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School increases officers' workload even more and about a dozen officers that were initial responders to the scene are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because of it. As of Tuesday night, Kehoe said five officers are out with PTSD.
Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk favors having police officers in every school, but would rather have officers chiefly for security, rather than SROs.
"I'm not a big fan of an SRO in the schools," Ruszczyk said. "An SRO has other responsibilities. I want an officer whose job is to protect the kids, not teach. Let the teachers teach."
"We'll never be able to prevent them 100%," he said of incidents like Dec. 14. "But there are things we can do to reduce them, and having police officers in every school is a good start."