The Board of Selectmen reviewed five options to provide increased security and safety at Newtown’s elementary schools, as well as providing options for local private schools that might want to consider being part of an overall community program tied to the local police department. Officials also met Anne Alzapiedi, a senior human resource leader at GE Capital and former municipal official, who will join two other GE Capital colleagues providing logistical and advisory support to the community in the wake of the 12/14 tragedy.
With Selectman Will Rodgers out of town, First Selectman Pat Llodra and Selectman James Gaston poured over a multipoint proposal and the related costs to put armed local police officers or unarmed security personnel in the four Newtown elementary schools. During the discussion, officials also revealed that they expect to get some or all of the financial underwriting for supplemental safety personnel from a US Department of Justice COPS grant, which is designated to hire new officers versus funding new positions among existing personnel.
At the same time, the selectmen recommended transferring $400,000 into a contingency fund to offset the cost of implementing one of two proposed options. That way the money would be available in the event the grant is not awarded, or to fast-track the proposal with the grant offsetting the transfer once it is delivered.
Of the five options presented, the one receiving the least attention and support would be to employ private, unarmed security personnel. Mrs Llodra explained that if this idea was deemed most viable, or a worthy supplemental option, its management and funding would come through the district.
The first option was creating four school safety officer positions within the local police department. Those certified officers would work throughout the school year with compensation proportionate to the work of nonschool-based patrol officers.
These officers would focus almost exclusively on building safety and security practices and would have no instructional involvement. These officers, as well as those identified in the subsequent three options, would use deactivated front-line patrol cars that would still be equipped with lights and siren, but would otherwise be stripped of the “rolling office” equipment and some other features required by patrol officers.
Using the secondary patrol cars would greatly reduce the cost of funding the program, Mrs Llodra said, while providing a clear message that a local police official was on the premises at all times when school is in session.
The total projected taxpayer cost for this option would be $335,600 — $75,000 per officer including benefits, and an estimated annual cost of $8,900 to maintain the four extra marked vehicles.
Supplementing New Hires
Option two would involve applying three newly hired patrol officers and restructuring existing personnel to add the fourth position, most likely drawing one of two officers from the traffic division. When school is not in session, these four officers would revert to regular patrol duties or special assignments.
Option two was estimated to cost $309,812, plus the same expected $8,900 cost for each vehicle.
The third option would involve adding four new hires instead of drawing from an existing assignment. This proposal would cost $401,216 plus the vehicles.
The last option would be to hire and train four new school resource officers (SROs), who would revert to nonschool public safety assignments when school is not in session. These individuals, like the others already working in Newtown, would provide both instruction and safety at the elementary level.
This option is projected to cost $406,216, plus an SRO stipend of $5,000 per officer, plus the vehicle expenses.
During discussion, the selectmen noted that options two and three seemed the most practical and viable, and left the possibility open to enhance the skill set of the safety officers by possibly training them as SROs sometime in the future. Mrs Llodra also pointed out that there is no current working model for SROs at the K–4 grade levels.
Mrs Llodra said most of the concern she is hearing from parents and the community is for the safety and security of elementary students, and not necessarily for officers trained to provide curriculum support. And any newly created positions would have to be agreed upon and endorsed by the police union.
“The big question is how long it will take to work with the union and get results in a timely fashion,” Mrs Llodra said.
Mr Gaston suggested that by going with the SRO option from the start, the town would get the benefit of both safety and instructional enhancements. Mrs Llodra said another benefit would be the added personnel would likely reduce overtime costs in the police budget.
Councilman Robert Merola, who spoke to the selectmen outside his official capacity, asked if costs related to unarmed security personnel would be presented by the school district so taxpayers could consider the overall expenses involved. He also hoped that any supplemental security and safety program would have a “sunset” date, and asked how long it might take to train any sworn officers to move into the elementary schools.
Moving on, Mrs Llodra reviewed an option for the town’s four private schools, taking into account that the idea would commit public money to supporting private school programs. Ultimately, she said the option to participate in any public safety initiatives would come from those schools.
With that in mind, the first selectman proposed either a one-time grant of $20,000 so private schools could affect security enhancements. She also suggested the schools consider supporting a “community policing” model that would instead create opportunities for local police to be visible and present in the vicinity of the town’s private schools, without employing those officers solely for their own security.
“None of these cost money,” Mrs Llodra said. “We’ll probably get push back from the police, but there has to be a way to do this.”
Her ideas included requesting patrol officers to routinely visit the private schools during daytime shifts, possibly periodically joining staff and students for lunch breaks or other programs. Mrs Llodra also suggested having patrol officers directed to park in private school lots when they are completing reports on the laptops installed in each front-line cruiser.
The selectmen also spent a few minutes getting to know Ms Alzapiedi, who, along with GE Capital staffers Elizabeth Rallo and Newtown resident Tom Kelleher, will be assisting the town with added responsibilities that have developed since 12/14. The three were among a large number of GE Capital staffers who asked to be part of a support team.
The company employs approximately 150 Newtown residents, according to Mrs Llodra. Among them is Martha Poulter, who has been leading a special team at GE Capital looking into the best ways company talent could be brought to bear for the community.
The three “on-loan” executives will each have separate duties. Armed with a master’s degree in public administration, Ms Alzapiedi will provide leadership, vision and strategic direction on a variety of “after crisis initiatives.” Prior to her work with GE Capital, where she earned a “Six Sigma Black Belt,” Ms Alzapiedi spent eight years in public sector work in communities in Delaware, Massachusetts and locally in Trumbull.
Ms Rallo will be charged with “stream tracking” and project management, impact assignment and change identification.
Mr Kelleher will be working trying to identify and organize myriad support funds and efforts that have sprung up in the days and weeks since the 12/14 tragedy, as well as facilitating access to funds from those in need.
Mrs Llodra said the efforts of officials and volunteers to respond to the massive outpouring of support, as well as the day-to-day efforts handling post-12/14 administration has been “overwhelming and a little bit frightening.”
“I really needed help to make it through at a level of service that the people of Newtown deserve,” Mrs Llodra said.