Taxpayers OK school security requests

Emotions were high at the special Town Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13, as taxpayers approved money for two new police officers, school security upgrades to Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School and incurred police overtime.

Taxpayers approved a total of $322,619.71, with $187,619.71 to come from the unassigned fund balance to pay for two new officers — a full-time school resource officer (SRO) and an officer to serve as part-time youth officer and part-time investigator — and police overtime, and $135,000 to come from the capital non-recurring reserve fund to pay for school security upgrades.

Police presence was increased at both Redding schools after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were killed.

Police overtime incurred from Dec. 14, 2012, to Jan. 20, 2013, totaled $27,685 for two police officers, one at Redding Elementary School and one at John Read Middle School while school was in session. Overtime was also incurred by officers who covered shifts in Newtown.

An estimated amount of $101,904.32 in police overtime in both schools will be incurred from Jan. 22, to June 21 to backfill the two police positions that were approved. The two new police officers for the schools until the end of the fiscal year (from March 1, 2013, to June 30, 2013) will cost a total of $58,030.

New officers

As per a request by the Redding Board of Education, police Chief Douglas Fuchs asked the Board of Selectmen for approval to hire two new police officers in order to have a full-time SRO and a youth officer who would also act as a part-time investigator when needed. The youth officer/investigator brings the Police Department up to its authorized complement of 16 officers. The SRO is a new position.

The two police officer posts are also included in the selectmen’s budget request for the next fiscal year. That budget will go to the finance board, which will prepare a final budget for taxpayer approval in May.

By hiring two new officers, the two current officers in Redding who are trained to be SROs can report to the schools while the new officers are trained, said Chief Fuchs.

“I’d assign the currently trained SRO from patrol to the SRO program at the school. Then I’d hire and train a new officer to backfill the reassigned SRO. I’d staff the additional school security position through June with overtime officers,” said Chief Fuchs.

At that time, school security enhancements would take place and then Chief Fuchs would begin the selection process and training of a youth officer, he said.

“Then I’d hire and train a second new officer to backfill the youth officer,” he said.

By the end of the summer, the school security enhancements will be complete and Chief Fuchs would migrate the youth officer into the full-time position from patrol and backfill the patrol with overtime as required until the hiring and training process is complete, said Chief Fuchs.

Additional duties of an SRO when school is not in session include patrols in and around Topstone Park camp programs, summer school programs, and extended day and other Park and Recreation summer programs, he said.

The SRO would also provide supplemental patrol when school is not in session during snow days, vacations and holidays to offset overtime needs.

During a given day, there are at least two and a half officers scheduled per shift, and many of the calls police respond to are required two-officer calls, he said. Car accidents, domestics and alarms are all two-officer calls.

The annual cost for a new officer is $87,046, which is for 240 work days. The cost for 180 days of overtime per school year is $94,551, said Chief Fuchs.

Alex Gray, a Redding resident, gave an analysis of population to number of police and said that the town has “gone crazy on police. We don’t need any more,” he said.

Mr. Gray’s comment drew applause.

Lisa Kurtz held back tears while giving her comment.

“The schools need police officers. I don’t want to wait 10 minutes [for police to arrive]. A lot can happen,” she said.

Later, Clare Dean, a resident, asked what an SRO does.

Kim Ajavananda, Board of Education member, said the SRO works with a lot of different aspects in the school. The officer is trained to work with children and act as law enforcement and as part of the administration.

“The mission of the school resource officer is to collaborate with school administrators and staff members to promote the safety and well-being of students,” said Ms. Ajavananda.

“Now is the time for an SRO. Maybe in two years we won’t need one,” said Scott Smith, another resident.

In an 87-44 vote, $58,030 was approved to be funded from the unassigned fund balance for two new police officers.

“Our police officers, each and every day — each and every shift — head out on patrol with the intent and resolve to keep our residents safe and be in a position to aid in any way possible,” said Chief Fuchs after the meeting.

“When you see one of your officers in and around our schools — know that they, while they are having a good time with the kids, being friendly and outgoing with all who pass through the school doors— are still standing watch and are all poised to ‘be the first through that door’ should anyone ever need help ‘on the other side of it.’”

School security upgrades

Peggy Sullivan, director of finance and operations for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said without giving too much detail that security upgrades totaling $135,000 were being requested by the school board for the current year’s budget.

Upgrades to both Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School include interior and exterior surveillance videos, communication upgrades between the schools and police, and improved locks on doors, said Ms. Sullivan.

Ms. Dean asked who would watch the surveillance.

The surveillance videos would be watched by administrators at the school and by police at the department.

The security upgrades were initially presented in the 2013-14 proposed school budget, but the board asked to make the upgrades now and not wait.

With only three votes against, $135,000 in school security upgrades for Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School were approved.

Police overtime

Chief Fuchs said with the number of officers he currently has, the only way for an officer to be stationed at the schools while they are in session is through overtime.

Currently the Redding Police Department has 15 officers. One officer is completing field training and another is in the academy, said Chief Fuchs. There is also one officer who is sometimes on medical leave, giving the department about 12 or 13 officers to schedule 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

“The officers at the schools are on overtime and are getting fatigued,” said Chief Fuchs.

Fatigued officers who respond to high-risk, lower frequency calls and high-risk, higher frequency calls can endanger themselves, he said.

When discussing the incurred overtime by having Redding officers assist Newtown police, Redding resident Beth Williams asked if there is any way to be reimbursed by Newtown.

The current officers who are in Newtown are being paid by Newtown, said Chief Fuchs. These officers are covering for Newtown officers not yet able to come back on duty. A reimbursement program is being worked out on a state level for all the departments that helped, he said.

Bill Alvarez, Board of Finance chair, said the $27,685.39 is overtime that exceeded the budgeted amount for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“We budget for overtime. This $27,000 is extra overtime,” said Mr. Alvarez.

The $101,904.32 is estimated police overtime from Jan. 22 to June 21.

Chief Fuchs said the decision is a financial decision. If voters turned down the future overtime, then “tomorrow there will be no police in the schools,” he said.

By a unanimous voice vote, taxpayers approved the $27,685.39 in incurred overtime.

In a 99-39 vote, $101,904.32 from the unassigned fund balance for estimated police overtime through the end of the school year was approved.

Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, superintended for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said after the meeting that the Redding Board of Education members “thoughtfully worked through some difficult questions and reached a consensus about a balanced response to security concerns.”

“Local leaders on the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance understood that those concerns affected the whole community, and they paved the way for members of the community to be heard,” said Dr. Josefsberg. “I was impressed with the quality of Redding’s local leadership as well as with the town meeting process itself. It takes courage for citizens to stand up in that kind of an arena and debate the issues.”

Chief Fuchs said discussion of school security is one the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen and police have been having for many years.

“The residents of Redding should be proud that the solution which we have collaboratively developed is one which affords us greater school and community security, as well as other opportunities, while maintaining the culture of Redding which we all have come to expect and demand,” said Chief Fuchs.

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