Town meeting will decide security requests

School security enhancements, including police presence in the elementary and middle schools, are among several items headed to a town meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The  meeting is set at the Redding Community Center at 7:30 p.m. The agenda will also include consideration of an appropriation for police overtime as well as capital items (see other story) for the town’s lower schools.

All agenda requests are recommended for funding this fiscal year. The total amount related to school security is $322,620.

At Monday’s joint meeting of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance, members of the Redding school board, which oversees Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School, and police Chief Douglas Fuchs presented the recommendations for security enhancements.

Among them are physical enhancements such as surveillance cameras and improved communication capabilities within the schools and with police and a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) and another police officer who would serve as a part-time youth officer and also be available to police as an investigator.

Sara Sobel, a school board member, said her board’s requests are to balance the concerns of parents, staff, administrators, and the community and are “not merely a reactive approach” to the Dec. 14 tragedy in Newtown.

Last Dec. 14, a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Since then, schools across Connecticut and the country have been looking at security issues.

In his formal request to the Board of Selectmen, schools Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg requested that the town take the necessary steps to equip local police with the resources required to reinstate the role of an SRO in the schools “as well as to hire any additional personnel that may be necessary.”

The projected cost for school security for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, includes overtime for helping Newtown officers from Dec. 14 through Jan. 6 at $9,354 and overtime for police presence at the two schools from Dec. 14 through Jan. 20 at a cost of $18,331, for a requested overtime appropriation of $27,685.

The requested amount to provide two officers on overtime at the two schools from Jan. 22 until the end of the school year is $101,104. Should the town meeting approve the officers that are requested for the lower schools, Chief Fuchs said, he could immediately provide a full-time SRO, who would be at only one school at a time. For the time being, an officer on overtime would provide police presence at the other school, requiring this overtime appropriation through the end of the fiscal year. Overtime requested for the second officer would be used to pay the police officer covering the duties formerly performed by the SRO officer.

Another appropriation is requested to provided an SRO from Jan. 22 through June 30 , or four months, at a cost of $29,015, and to provide a new officer whose duties would include the role of youth officer, for four months, also at a cost of $29,105.

The total for these three expenditures is $259,334. Added to this is the phase 1 security enhancements for the schools, at a requested amount of $135,000 for a total of $322,620.

Bill Alvarez, finance board chairman, said the requests for overtime and the new officers are more operating expenses in nature, while the physical school enhancements are capital items. He recommended, and the finance board unanimously agreed, that the $135,000 for physical enhancements come from the town’s capital non-recurring account, which now has a balance of  $1,045,000. He recommended the overtime and officers, totaling $187,600, be paid for from the unassigned fund balance.

At various times, said Mr. Alvarez, he has said this fund balance should be used for unforeseen expenditures.

At the end of the June 30, 2012, fiscal year, said Mr. Alvarez, the unassigned fund balance is $6.4 million, or 13.8% of next year’s budget expenditures. The $187,000 would almost be offset by the finance director’s projections, although not yet finalized, for the end of the fiscal 2012-13 year, money that would be added to the fund balance. “It would almost be a wash,” said Mr. Alvarez.

Each of these four items will be voted on separately at the town meeting.

On Tuesday, First Selectman Natalie Ketham said the appropriations for the security-related items would be paid for from money the town already  has, so the approval of these appropriations would have no impact on taxes.

School Resource Officer

Chief Fuchs said the SRO position is not new — a part-time SRO had been in place for the elementary and middle schools since 2005 until recently, when Police Department staffing requirements had an impact on the position.

The chief said two officers in his department are trained as SROs and one could be used to fill this post full-time. Before the Newtown tragedy, he had planned to ask for two police officers in his budget for fiscal 2013-14  — one to bring the department to its full authorized complement of 16 and one to serve as a part-time SRO and part-time investigator.

Now the request is for a full-time SRO, which would be a new position, and an officer — to bring the department to its authorized complement of 16 — who would serve part-time as a youth officer and part-time as an investigator for the department, saving on overtime for this investigative work.

The SRO would be used between the elementary and middle schools with the part-time youth officer, already trained as an SRO, available for additional patrols of all schools, Park & Recreation summer programs, etc. His schedule during the school year would be Monday through Friday. The officer would have specialized training in youth investigations and serve as a backup to the SRO, such as for vacation time, as well as follow up on other criminal investigations as needed.

Chief Fuchs explained that an SRO is a full-time law enforcement officer who primarily works in the schools.

An SRO is trained in drug abuse education, decision making, bullying, educating youth, youth in crisis, and school security. Both of the Police Department’s SROs are trained and certified by the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Among the duties the school board and Police Department approved for an SRO in 2005 were team teaching with the schools’ staff, maintaining a physical presence in the schools, attending school-related activities when requested, providing supervision and support in times of crisis, and school security. The two also agreed the SRO would abide by the policies of the school board and coordinate activities at the direction of school administrators while following the chain of command and regulations of the Police Department.

Besides his duties at the school, the SRO would serve the community with additional patrols in and around summer camp and summer school programs as well as other Park & Rec. summer programs. The SRO would provide supplemental patrol when school is not in session to offset police overtime needs.

Since 2005, there has been a selection committee in place, which is unique to Redding, with representative of the school administration and police. The committee determines selection guidelines for the position of SRO.

According to the chief, many neighboring Fairfield County towns already have SROs, including Easton, which has one for its lower schools.

Police officers

Chief Fuchs said he now has a complement of 15 officers, but two are administrators, so there are 13 officers to provide 24/7 coverage of the town. However, he has only 11 officers on duty since two are still in training, he said, and another officer is on intermittent medical leave.

The average number of officers on the road is 2.5, Chief Fuchs said, and they cover all of the town. While Redding is not large in terms of population, it is by its square mile area, the chief said.

With the proposed youth officer/investigator, he said, when the SRO is not in one of the schools, the youth officer is available for increased presence in both schools and at the high school for police response. This would then not take an officer off the road, he said.

There is no request from the Region 9 school board at this time for police presence or an SRO in Joel Barlow High School.

Since the Newtown tragedy, there has been police presence at both the elementary and middle schools by officers who are on overtime.

Once the security enhancements for the schools have progressed enough, the chief said, the second officer could be removed from the school building but would patrol in and around the schools, and eventually would be repalced by a youth officer.  The youth officer would then fill in additional patrols Monday through Friday, he said, calling the plan a phased approach.

Questioned about the hiring of officers to replace the two posts aimed at school security (and thereby cut down on overtime costs for police presence at the schools), the chief said if he could hire a certified officer that meets his department’s criteria, it would take less time than getting a new officer on the road. It takes six months at the police academy plus four months of training on the road with another officer before a new officer is ready, he said.

Finance Director Steve Gniadek said $87,046, including salary, benefits, etc.,  is the cost of a new officer. To provide overtime to cover the work of one officer is $126,068, he said. The full-time officer would work 240 days compared to 180 for overtime for a police officer on overtime at the school, his cost comparison showed.

In making his case for the two officers, the chief pointed to statistics showing that police presence significantly impacts things like motor vehicle accidents, burglaries, and motor vehicle stops, which all decreased over the two years used for comparison. He also said of the school shootings in the last 10 years, only 4% of the time did police presence not matter.

Mr. Alvarez asked how the local Police Department compares with those in other towns. The chief said the area average is 1.9 police officers per 1,000 population. Redding’s average is generally at 1.3, and in “a perfect world” would be 19 officers, he said.

Joe Dolan, a finance board member, questioned whether the security requests on the table would be made without the Dec. 14 tragedy.

“If it was only because of Dec. 14, shame on us,” said Ms. Sobel. She said the schools had an SRO before this but it “unfortunately ended.”

“I have been an advocate of an SRO and more collaboration with police since I’ve lived in town,” she said.

She said the requested security enhancements won’t solve all problems but are “in the right direction.”

“An SRO is not a panacea to stop violence, but is a huge deterrent,” Chief Fuchs said.

When asked about the time frame for implementing the physical enhancements in the schools, Peggy Sullivan, director of finance and operations for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said some could be done in February and some over April vacation.

Both the Boards of Selectmen and Finance agreed to take the security enhancement requests to a town meeting.

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