NEWTOWN, Conn. -- The town is considering creating new, sworn and armed "school security officers," separate from school resource officers, that would only work when school is in session as one way to beef up school security while keeping costs down, Chief of Police Michael Kehoe said Tuesday night.
The officers "would only be required to work 180 days" and "would have the rest of the time off," Kehoe told the Board of Police Commissioners.
He described the proposal as one of five options recently put forth by First Selectwoman Pat Llodra.
"I would look at that as maybe a unique position for a retired officer ... with the understanding that they're not doing exactly what a regular officer is doing," Kehoe said.
Kehoe, in response to a question from police board member Joel Faxon as to whether there are any other communities using sworn school security officers that only work when school is in session, said, "I don't know of any others.
"With all eyes on Newtown, it's something that we can think about," he said. Llodra put forth the options in a meeting last week, Kehoe said.
Kehoe said after the meeting that, unlike the school resource officers, or SROs, already at Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School and Reed Intermediate School, the school security officers would be responsibility solely for keeping the schools safe and secure.
The proposal is part of the town's effort to put armed police officers in each of Newtown's seven schools in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting, Kehoe said.
Adam Lanza, a troubled 20-year-old man armed with three semi-automatic guns, shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first-graders and six female educators before killing himself, after first shooting his mother four times as she lay in bed.
Llodra's other four options -- which Kehoe said were separate from unarmed security officers recently approved in the Board of Education's budget request to the Board of Finance -- were for:
--A combination of school resource officers and school security officers
--Adding four officers to the Police Department "and then deciding how we want to actually send them out into the field," Kehoe said. "I'm sure that some of them would be assigned to schools. But we could use them year-round for a number of things."
--Hiring and training four additional SROs for the elementary schools, and,
--Hiring additional private security officers.
News of the possible new school security officers came at the same meeting at which Kehoe and the board discussed surging overtime costs for the 43-officer Police Department.
that Chairman Paul Mangiafico said have risen from $11,000-$12,000 per month prior to Dec. 14 to almost $70,000 in January and $67,000 in February.
Kehoe told the board that he has been assured "that the overtime will be covered by grants," but added, "I know that it is way over what we're used to."
Mangiafico said, "the overtime issue is very significant" and the aftermath of Dec. 14 "had a very dramatic effect on our overtime costs -- to the effect that they've been four or five times higher" than they were previously.
Kehoe, who last month told the board that as many as seven officers at a time have been out since Dec. 14 with post-traumatic stress-related issues, said Tuesday that the current number out is down to two, one of them long term.
"How are we making sure that our sworn officers are protected?" asked Faxon.
Kehoe said he expects that the General Assembly today will likely vote to create a fund to help support officers who have to take time off as a result of what happened.
For the short term, money is available through the Sandy Hook Fund to aid police having troubles with a minimum of red tape and "I know also the union has reached out to any of the officers that have had any troubles," he said.
In one sign of how much things have changed for police in town since the shootings, Mangiafico revealed that police traffic stops have dropped since the shootings from 900-1,000 per month "down to 25."
Kehoe said, however, "I'm confident that we can begin to shift back to the normal traffic enforcement responsibilities that we have. ... It's just a matter of when.
"I would like to give it a couple of months to see where we're going," he said. "I think the dust is settling, so to speak. As the dust settles more, I think I'll be able to see."
Copyright 2013 - New Haven Register, Conn.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service