'We Have to Do Something': Town Talks School Security in Budget

The Newtown Finance Board began hammering out details on the future of security in Newtown schools at a Tuesday night meeting.


At a packed Board of Finance meeting, officials prepared to consider the details of a school security plan in the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. As the meeting went on, members from Newtown's education, police and legislative boards had a chance to offer input. 

"We have to do something," said finance chair John Kortze. "From the Board of Education's perspective, from the security committee's perspective, from police, how do we get there? What do we do now?" 

The board is not obliged to act until March 14, but with grant proposals still in the pipeline and a final report from the town security committee still in the making, Kortze urged expedience. Once finance officials approve the budget, Newtown's Legislative Council will not be able to add items. So if officials want to see armed officers as an item in the budget that will ultimately face a town vote, they'll likely have to add it before the 14th.

Until now, Kortze said, town officials had been "swimming in their own lane." The school board has favored armed police in all Newtown public schools and added 12 additional security officers to the budget. Police have suggested the town fund 11 new officers for the force, assuming officials choose to place armed officers in all schools, and suggest both public and private schools should be covered.

Security committee member Richard Gaines, also on the Board of Education, told the board that body's long-awaited report wasn't ready yet. The security committee's recommendations also include placing officers in all Newtown public schools. 

"We're working on it," he said. "We're trying to cover all these bases ... If I knew [the future], I could have won the lottery a long time ago."

Opinions on the proper response range across a broad spectrum -- from no added security presence at all to two or even three armed police officers in each Newtown public and private school. While the Board of Finance took no action Tuesday night, details -- and further questions -- began to emerge from a host of town board recommendations.

Resident Carla Barzetti addressed the board, urging them to go beyond the plan of one armed officer per school.

"Some parents have said if there aren't two armed guards they will be voting No [on the budget]," she said. "I believe more parents aren't here because they believe getting guards for their kids' schools is a given ... There's far too much going on for one lone security guard to contend with."

Police have priced the 11 proposed new officers at $1.2 million. These officers would serve to do more than just patrol the halls -- as School Resource Officers, they would participate in the curriculum, assist with education and be part of the school community. They could also cover beats outside of school, including during the summer or days with no school in session. First Selectman Pat Llodra said she was wary of adding officers on the streets when the focus should, she said, be on schools.

"We have to find a balance somewhere between the obligation to provide safety for public institutions and what the cost is going to be for the taxpayer -- what's reasonable and appropriate to ask taxpayers to bear," said Llodra. "I'm fearful of overreaching because you can wear out that community goodwill very quickly."

"This is a very thorny discussion we're going to have," Llodra said. She suggested the Board of Finance might ultimately deign to use the town's contingency account to fund security.

"You could pick the number that would provide for 'X' service," she said. "That might be best course of action."

Some officials suggested other alternatives, including hiring private security. Police Captain John Rios told the board such a move would save money -- private security guards could cost $30-40,000, compared to more than $90,000 for a new police officer -- but could come at a cost to quality.

"It's very difficult to put a dollar factor on it," he said. "But you're getting a trained, sworn police officer that can act accordingly when you have an incident. That's a big difference from an armed security guard. You get what you pay for -- I think you have to consider that."

Tuesday was the second budget-related meeting for the Board of Finance. At a public hearing Thursday night, many of the same group of parents and PTA members petitioned for expanded armed guards. The board will meet Thursday night, when budget discussion is expected to continue.

Stay connected to Patch for a series of followups to this story exploring the choices and challenges faced by town officials as they decide specifics on funding school security -- including the choice between police officers and private security guards, the extent of new hires and whether to include police security for private schools.

Bruce Terry February 28, 2013 at 02:55 PM
For better or worse, we’re past the days where most ordinary citizens are comfortable around other ordinary citizens who are armed – never mind having their children be near them. But, suppose we were fortunate enough to get volunteers with stellar credentials. I can still think of many reasons why it still wouldn’t work. What, for example, happens when someone just doesn’t show up? Imperfect as SRO’s may be, imperfect is not the enemy of the good. SRO’s have apparently proven to be effective enough that towns all over the country use them. Sure, let’s try to find ways to make them more cost effective (e.g. 10-month employment), but I don’t think it’s wise to start from scratch.
Fred February 28, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Explain to me why an event so rare it garnished all the media attention is a recurring threat we need to spend a portion of our finite resources to build defenses for. If you claim it is recurring you are including a broad population in that pool. Home invasions recur much more, do we all get armed guards at home? Cars can be made safe at 80mph accidents. No one would buy them, too expensive. If they were required to be that safe much less people could afford cars. If that level of defense is where the town heads many are going to have to think about comparing the hit on the house sale now to the rising mill rate, that is the math we will be faced with. It is not rational. When assessing risk you include probability, cost and effectiveness. At present the argument is totally emotional. One aberrant event does not change overall safety. Personally I feel we have too many police now. My house was robbed and they admitted there was nothing they could do, and I have no problem with that. More police would not change that. They are a powerful union with expensive pensions, the type that cripple municipalities. The police want more, of course, we do not need more. Have the ones we have stop by randomly at the schools if it makes you feel better, pay a construction worker to direct traffic - they are up to it and cheaper. With life expectancy now you will be paying the cop in retirement for far longer than his time on the job. Hear that sound, it is your mill rate rising.
Greg Burns February 28, 2013 at 04:25 PM
I believe various structures of Auxiliary school police (SROs) could work with some compensation or perhaps voluntary. There would need to be coverage backup as with any staffing arrangement. These people would not be ordinary citizens but "special police", in uniform, however they are selected. Most children are very comfortable with police, perhaps more so than adults. The more people who die at the hands of criminals - perhaps people will be more comfortable with good guys having guns. Many adults have a problem admitting to themselves and their children that they are not safe. One of the greatest restraints to criminals is the fact that they know and fear there are a lot of citizens out there with guns. Otherwise the bad guys would be at all our doors. Hundreds of thousands of people are saved from serious harm or death every year buy using a gun to defend themselves from criminals. Most of those people are just average citizen gun owners.
Bruce Terry February 28, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Fred, you’re arguing with straw men again. The point is just not to prevent another crazy gunman from entering the school or to guarantee everyone’s safety at all times. The point is that if something goes wrong at our schools, the police are too far away. What if, for example, a rabid coyote was menacing the playground while kids were outside? Irrational emotions aside, the value of what is in these schools is priceless. As for costs, I’m sympathetic. But, that’s another argument for another time. You mention that the police couldn’t help you with your situation and that you think we need less police. Maybe we don’t need a police force here at all. How much serious crime do the police really prevent? Well, what do you think will happen when people get used to this town not having a police presence? We really don’t know how much crime the police stop just by their very presence. We have to be careful not to take security for granted.
Donald Borsch Jr. February 28, 2013 at 04:53 PM
"For better or worse, we’re past the days where most ordinary citizens are comfortable around other ordinary citizens who are armed – never mind having their children be near them." ----------------------- And such a shame that is. Children are now being taught to be scared of guns in general, even if they see a police officer with one. Soon enough, plastic toy guns (that shoot bubbles) on the shelves of stores will be disappearing due to trumping up this fear. The words "gun, bullets, shoot" will be subject to disciplinary action should an elementary school child use them in class.
Bruce Terry February 28, 2013 at 04:57 PM
One more point: This shouldn’t be just about Newtown. Other towns should be taking similar measures as to what’s being proposed here. People all over the world were profoundly disturbed by what happened. We can’t just sit back and hope it doesn’t happen again here or anywhere else.
Jayne Long February 28, 2013 at 05:23 PM
In my humble opinion, employing a whole bunch of security officers, either armed or not at vast expense, is a little like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Our school grounds are not secure compounds and nor should they be. If we are to throw money at this problem, how about throwing some cash into early interventions with regard to mental health and having the resources to actually do something about at risk kids or families?
Greg Burns February 28, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Bruce and Fred, the cost issue is real for protecting schools just as it is for protecting airports. There are less expensive options for schools if town and city leadership can exercise a bit of imagination in their leadership, doubtful in many cases. However school armed defense options exist. This is not just a Newtown problem. It is a problem accross America. The decision to defend schools can not be based on statistics on the probability of the average school to be attacked. The probability for each school is small BUT our schools will be attacked again. We will choose to defend them because we do not want to be responsible for not defending them. Many churches have armed guards now. They do not talk about them, they are not in uniform -- but they are there. Armed defense will become more common in America, not less. It will become more common because we will see more people being attacked, we will see more violent crime that has nothing to do with magazines, assault weapons or background checks. It will have to do with criminals we as a nation are not stopping, putting in jail and keeping thm there. Instead now, we are not enforcing our laws, we are not severely dealing with armed criminals, we are not proscecuting them to the fullest, and we are not keeping them in jail. We are in fact letting them OUT.
Greg Burns February 28, 2013 at 06:22 PM
Jane, interventions for mental health and at-risk kids. Not irrelevant suggestions. However we do not really have the ability to impact either of those. half the prison population is mentally ill, we are letting them out of jail in Connecticut by the thousands, 7,500 last year - more to come this year. Woulkd that be considered a mental healh intervention. About 9,000 kids a year have not been graduating from high school. They can not read, write or even speak. They can not fill out a job application. WHAT WILL THEY DO??? There is an intervention. But in the process of intervening, you had better protect yourself and your kids - for a long time to come.
Fred February 28, 2013 at 07:15 PM
How do you consider anything without costs. I am not by any means anti 2nd amendment or afraid of guns. It is all costs. If costs were no consideration I might have armed security and the safest car in the world. Myself and my family would only see the best doctors, the ones that don't deal with insurance companies. If I thought there was a real risk I would say the cost might be worth it for armed security. You think we need an SRO to say stay away from the rabid coyote? What you say is my straw man I say is you seeing a monster under the bed. You either end up with unqualified guards or skyrocketing costs. There is no entitlement to the security you are mentioning. Everybody has the choice to pull out of the school and go private or home. If the town chooses to go crazy and spend all that money I will try to time the sale of my home to loose as little money as possible and go to elsewhere. Oh, and nothing is priceless. Do you think every child with cancer gets the best care possible? We would all be bankrupt if we provided that. This is all silly. I was impressed with how quick the police were there. If you want odds that much in your favor getting on a plane is out of the question...
Fred February 28, 2013 at 07:32 PM
New Fairfield does not have bullet proof glass - they are considering it, according to the press.
Bruce Terry February 28, 2013 at 08:23 PM
I may as well make another point while I'm at it: Who's to say these SRO's have to be tethered to the schools? If an emergency outside of school arises, SRO's should be able to respond. It's just that rather than spend their time at the office, patrolling the streets, or setting up speed traps, they're otherwise at the schools for 6 hours a day.
Bruce Terry February 28, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Fred, I agree. There is no entitlement to security. But, you forgot one of the choices I have: I can petition my government to add security to the elementary schools. I disagree, though, that every child isn’t priceless. They are priceless. That’s not to imply, though, that any price must be paid to protect them. I think a slight increase in property taxes sounds reasonable.
Michael Cragin February 28, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Maybe if i post this .on a daily basis.....it might gather some attention......VOTE ON IT....town votes......armed guards ..........yes or no........most votes win......majority rules....as it should be
Michael Cragin February 28, 2013 at 10:23 PM
let the newtown people decide.....VOTE on it.........yes we want guards.no we dont want guards.......majority wins......life is easy
Jeff March 01, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Can we recruite Victor Pierce as Police Chief? "All in all, the reserve-officer-training program costs less than $100 per participant, Pierce says, adding that even cash-strapped cities and districts could use this approach." This is the type of realistic, common sense thinking that this town is so lacking. Yes, some will protest, but I also know they won't bring their checkbooks. Others might think how many teachers we could hire, FDK, addressing other needs or actually saving a Million $ + I hope Mr Pierce gets a big raise. Here's why. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/341627/teachers-armed-guards-michigan-jillian-kay-melchior
Michael Cragin March 01, 2013 at 11:15 AM
has anyone noticed...if i post the suggestion to have town people Vote ...yes or no...on an issue.......no one responds.....know why.....cuz the topics im suggesting to vote on....have very very predictable results......and yet the process is so defining....stop endless back and forth banter.......VOTE
Fred March 01, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Greg Burns - if you read the states, violent crime is down, though I do agree they let them out of jail way too soon. What is up is instant access to information and the press playing up every indecent. Will that reverberate into more crime, perhaps, but it certainly results in people perceiving their is more violent crime. I am pro first and second amendment, but there are broad incidents of abuse of freedom in both categories. No answer or request for change, just a fact and one of the costs of freedom. Not being 100% safe all the time is one of the costs of freedom too. What you describe is not the America I love, it sound more akin to a police state.
Greg Burns March 01, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Crime is NOT DOWN, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4494. Violent crime UP in 2011 by 17%. While much or most of this is from an increase in "simple assaults, it is up. The Justice Dept. Bureau of Justice Statictics reports that Police and FBI reported crime is seriously under reported. Something we have known for years. Oh yes "simple assaults" lead to more complicated assaults by people who think they can use force with impunity or do not have the personal dicipline and restraint to do otherwise. Drug and alcohol abuse are not on the decline, unemployment is not on the decline, high school gradustion rates remain a huge problem (read, write, and speak, basic employable skills like filling out a job application or reading instructions). What will non high school grads DO in the hundreds of thousands? What will they DO? National financial dependence is not on the decline, teen pregnancy and single mother households is not declining. Alien populations are not declining including a crime element we are not controlling. Gang warfare is not declining and their impact will be spreading Geographically. Violence in most of our cities will not be declining and that violence is mobile. We will see an increase in decline of violence and security in America. Oh yes, terrorism from afar is not dead, it will visit us again.
Bruce Terry March 01, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Michael, I haven’t responded because I don’t think your posts are relevant to the discussion. I AM going to vote. But we don’t even know what we’re voting on yet. SRO’s haven’t been put into the budget and the discussion here is whether or not they should be. But, to address another point you might be trying to make, I don’t have a problem with low voter turnout. I believe people who aren’t informed shouldn’t vote and that’s probably why many people don’t vote. There have been several times I haven’t voted because I wasn’t informed on the issues being decided. In this case, though, I know that I don’t want my son to be going to elementary school without better protection than what he had last year. To Fred’s point, my cost benefit analysis is that I’m willing to pay a slight increase in property taxes so that if an attack like 12/14 *or other dangerous events* were to occur in my son’s elementary school *or other elementary schools in town*, my son *and all other kids at school* would have a much better chance of surviving. I believe so strongly about that, that I’m making efforts to persuade other voters to agree with me.
Greg Burns March 01, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Yup, you are right, their vote, their town, their kids.
Michael Cragin March 02, 2013 at 11:17 AM
do you think people are "well informed"...when they vote for the town budget or pres ?????.....Really???......people vote on what little they know or emotion....no degree in GUN LOGIC would be needed......clear.simple choices....yes or no....we can go to same places we always vote...same volunteers...and GET a decision...the dynamics of the decision can be bantered over later.....do firing range rules need change in Newtown...yes or no...........does newtown want guards......yes or no....figure out who and how later.......Votes count....not one side blogs with the same pistol packers....repeating themselves over and over with a new combination of words
Marc Michaud March 02, 2013 at 07:05 PM
The first time most of the officers had met the staff at Sandy Hook or even been in the building should not have been when they were sliding their badges under doors for identification. In ultra high stress conditions such as what happened on 12/14, familiarity with a facility and the people who work there translates directly to a more effective response. Police Officers are trained to recognize who or what doesn’t fit into the immediate environment, thus giving an assailant no opportunity to hide or blend into the population of victims. Also, the staff and students would be spared some of the trauma and fear if they knew their rescuers by face, rather than just another person in paramilitary uniform with a firearm. The suggestion that any patrol officer who works day shift spend some of their time in our schools has great merit. At most I could see the benefit one additional officer to help fill in any gaps created by implementing this procedure. Would it also make sense to have the supervisory ranks cover patrol duties while familiarization training occurs? After reviewing reports of who immediately responded to Sandy Hook, the ranks of Captain and Lieutenant appear to be conspicuously sparse. Could it be that a culture of entitlement has crept into our Police Departments’ upper ranks?
Marc Michaud March 02, 2013 at 08:43 PM
We would be remiss if we did not also discuss an inherent deficiency of the visible security personnel approach. Whether it’s random patrols, a guard at the door, or a uniformed SRO, they can be observed and tracked, thus giving the advantage of initiative over to the aggressor. Virginia Tech and Columbine are just two examples of assailants attacking where they knew armed opposition would not be at the outset of their actions. In order to be effective, visible measures and personnel must be backed up by a well publicized understanding that there are a few highly qualified, well trained, armed individuals within the facility. To be effective the identity of those individuals must be a closely guarded secret, known only to the building administrators and security/law enforcement personnel. The model for this program is our highly successful NTSB Air Marshal Program. Such a measure would remove initiative from the aggressor and act as an effective deterrent. As to who should be selected. I do not hold to the notion that only law enforcement personnel are capable of the responsibility of carrying a firearm. Donning a uniform does not after all, imbue one with superpowers, they are our neighbors and fellow citizens who have undertaken the training and responsibilities of their chosen profession, no different from anyone who would take on the burden of carrying a firearm in the defense of their school.
WaxyGordon March 02, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Yes, and before you know it every building, from a school to a grocery store will have an armed guard....do we really want a world like that???? Lets fix mental health, the root cause.
Greg Burns March 03, 2013 at 12:13 AM
Mr, Michaud, good points all. At Columbine the armed secutity officer was a half mile away in his car then came back and engaged the gunmen in gunfire exchange from 60 yards away without his glasses which he forgot to bring to work. He was useless and patheric as a protector. He did not go into the school and engage the gunmen. He was not the right man for the job, regardless of how he was trained for the job. He was not a protector. He was only a security guard with a gun. Michaud has a point, a uniformed person performing security may not be of best advantage but just a quick visible target. However, so are most police officers. But having an effective protector there is a great deterrant, having more than one is even better if some staff are armed by choice. WaxyGordon would not accept that we need to be armed to be ready to counter violence even in the grocery store. Well Waxy when the bad guys come to the grocery store the police will not be there and I would bet the health professionals have not made that much of an impression on the criminals coming in with the guns. Waxy has not met many repeat offender criminals I would guess. The prisons are filled with them Waxy and your legislators and governor are letting them out in the thousands. Such people need more than a counselor, they have had many already. If you meet one intending to do you harm you will know that, hopely he will not kil you in the grocery store.
My Inside Voice March 03, 2013 at 07:38 PM
In 2010 there were 55,235,000 K-12 students in the US. In that same year there were 3 shooting fatalities of K-12 students (one of the three fatalities was gang related and another was the student shooting themselves). 55M / 3 = 18.4M to 1 chance of student being killed in a K-12 school shooting in 2010.
My Inside Voice March 03, 2013 at 08:18 PM
With the type of support we received from the State Police do we really need a larger town police department?
Lisa Wallace March 04, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Amen! Rationale and reasonable. And unfortunately, exactly why your sane and "humble" approach will never fly here. I lived in DC and saw less politics than here in Newtown.
Donald Borsch Jr. March 04, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Jayne, You mean like this? http://www.ct.gov/dph/lib/dph/ohca/hc_facilities_advisory_body/ohcastatewide_facilities_and_services_chapter_7persons_at_risk_and_vulnerable_populations.pdf


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