Forum To Address School Safety In Newington

The Hartford Courant

The town will hold a public forum Jan. 29 on additional school security measures, including the possibility of putting police officers in every public school.

"We want to hear from the public," Town Manager John Salomone said. "We also want to comment about what we do in Newington on the town side and what the board of education institutes for school safety."

The meeting comes a month after Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and murdered 20 students and six staff members.

Some Newington parents are already calling for officers in every school. An online petition had garnered 169 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

"I just think that there's so many different solutions that could be helpful, but a (police officer in every school) is the one that would be the most immediate and the most effective," said Lisa Vumback, one of the petition's organizers.

Salomone and Superintendent William C. Collins said that they are open to a variety of initiatives, including a police officer at every school. Public input will play a significant role in the town's and school system's decision, Collins said.

"We really want to hear from residents their feelings on this," he said. "Do you feel safe sending your kids to school? How far do you want us to go on this?"

A school resource officer, a fully qualified police officer who provides security and runs DARE and other programs, has long been assigned to Newington High School, Collins said.

Providing school resource officers to the system's six other schools would require the hiring and training of six new officers and cost taxpayers about an extra $720,000 a year, he said.

The town has about 50 police officers, so adding six would constitute more than a 10 percent expansion of the department, Salomone said.

Salomone said he's had preliminary discussions with Police Chief Richard Mulhall about the possibility of adding new officers. Mulhall was out Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Collins and Salomone noted that the district has beefed up security in recent years, including adding a sophisticated surveillance system and doors that lock from the inside.

"We want the most safety in the most cost-effective way," Salomone said.

Vumback praised the schools' proactive approach to safety and said she understood the financial concerns. But she called response time critical and said that having an officer on site would reduce it from minutes to seconds. She added that the additional officers would increase the town's budget less than 1 percent.

"I think you can't put a price on safety," she said. "In light of what happened, I don't think that surveillance itself is going to be enough."

Vumback said she would oppose armed security guards, saying she would want the maximum level of training possible.

Salomone, meanwhile, ruled out arming teachers and administrators.

The forum will be 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Newington High School.

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