Plan for armed guards in Enfield public schools moving forward

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Fri., Apr. 12, 2013
Enfield public schools will be employing armed guards on a part-time basis in all schools beginning next school year. Pictured is Enfield Street School. Photo by Jennifer Coe.
Enfield public schools will be employing armed guards on a part-time basis in all schools beginning next school year. Pictured is Enfield Street School. Photo by Jennifer Coe.

After weeks of discussions, public reaction, some protest and deliberation, Enfield school administrators have determined that all 11 public schools in town will have armed guards this coming school year. As part of a larger, revised security program developed after the school shooting in Newtown last year, the armed guards will be a stop-gap measure to prevent the entry of an intruder intent on taking the lives of staff and students.

“I think after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it opened up our eyes that we needed to re-form our security committee that we used to have,” said Vincent Grady, a member of the Board of Education. The committee has been meeting for about 15 weeks and includes members of the Board of Education, Town Council, police officers, and the director of public safety.

“We said we needed to re-look at the security of our schools,” said Grady. Each school’s security was evaluated and some areas which needed improvement were identified. Some of these issues are already in the process of being rectified, such as a stricter entrance policy, cameras and buzzer systems.

“It is going to be a lot tougher to get into the schools now,” said Grady. “The process has already begun.”

Board of Education Chairman Tim Neville agreed. “We’re training all of our people differently now. They were trained to go into lockdown, that’s the training that came out of Columbine,” he said. “We’re changing the protocols for staff to respond differently.” He added that there would be more consistent regular training on how to handle emergency situations.

The most controversial aspect of this increased security plan is the decision to place armed guards in the schools on a regular basis.
“The day after Newtown, we went to every single school,” said Police Chief Carl Sferrazza. “Talking with the chief in Newtown, Sandy Hook was probably as prepared as any school in the state,” he said. “It became apparent to me that if we have someone like that, we’re going to lose people in our buildings.”

Sferrazza speaks plainly, and from experience, that his biggest concern is protecting the students and staff of Enfield from a person who is determined to enter the school and shoot. “Active shooters are individuals that go into a building with the sole intent of killing as many children as he can,” said Sferrazza. He went to on to describe Enfield’s new security plan as “detour and delay,” meaning by making it harder for someone to enter the building, police will have more time to reach the perpetrator.

Many parents have objected to this plan and consider it an “overkill” step.

“I spoke against it and I voted against it,” said Board of Education member Joyce Hall. “I think the concerns vary from person to person, and I don’t think that it is a necessary step, even in spite of Newtown,” she said. “It’s an overkill type of situation. We seem to be the first town to go this far.” Hall said the reaction from public has been “very mixed.”

“I think [the armed guards are what] a lot of people got scared of,” said Grady about the heated public discussions. “They are afraid of kids being traumatized.”

And Neville, too, said that parents and residents alike have found this discussion hard. “It makes me uncomfortable,” he said. “It makes all of us all uncomfortable. I think sometimes we stick our heads in the sand.”

According to Sferrazza, the guards are initially intended to be retired police men and women. “People with 20 to 25 years on the job,” he said. “We’re getting an overwhelming response.” Sferrazza said they have had applicants who have retired from the Department of Defense, the Connecticut State Trooper system, and the Enfield and Hartford police departments. They will go through an interview process, background check, physical and psychological testing, and will have to show their proficiency with a handgun.

“These are not ‘rent-a-cops,’” said Sferrazza.

Details on the multi-faceted security plan are being kept discrete, as leaders don’t want to give a potential shooter any information that may assist him in gaining entry to any of the schools. “When you put an alarm on your house, you don’t put the code in the front window,” said Neville.

A sunset clause has been placed in this new security approach, so that at the end of two years time, the security committee will determine is the plan is working.

The Town Council will fund a total of 22 to 24 part-time guards for the 2013-2014 school year.

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