School superintendent suggests hiring four to five police officers to work in school district

School Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser wants to post four or five armed police officers in Milford’s schools in light of the December shootings in Sandy Hook. She’s expressed her wishes to the mayor and police chief and is waiting to see if funding and officers come through.

Feser talked about security early this week at a budget press conference and then at a Board of Education meeting.

She said steps have already been taken to increase and review security procedures at the city’s schools. Those initiatives have come out of the school budget.

The bigger initiative, hiring school police officers, called school resource officers, would have to be made at the city level.

She said the officers are police officers trained to work in the schools. “They become part of the school,” she said.

Feser would like to see one officer at each of the high schools, one to travel among the three middle schools and at least one for the elementary schools.

“We expressed our wishes to the police chief and the mayor,” Feser said, adding that school officials will have to see if the mayor’s budget proposal includes funds for the officers.

She hasn’t asked for additional security guards at the high schools. Now there are two each at Law and Foran.

Mayor Ben Blake said he has talked to city leaders about school security, and he seems to support the idea of school-based officers if funds can be found to pay for them.

“Since Sandy Hook, Dr. Feser, police Chief Keith Mello, and I have had several meetings to discuss and review the schools’ emergency management,” Blake said. “I’ve also visited each of our elementary schools with the chief, and while I was reassured by the practices and procedures presently in place, we are working to enhance security protocols.

“And yes, we are vetting a school resource officer program and I’ve spoken to Milford’s federal legislative delegation and asked for help funding the initiative.”

In addition to a desire for school resource officers, Feser outlined plans to spend $87,000 in 2013-14 to beef up security. That money will go toward enhancing and upgrading the security systems in place at all the school buildings.

“These will include adding more security cameras, placing swipe-only entrances to more doors, enhancing quick and direct link notification capabilities to the Police Department and others,” Feser said.

Another $131,000 will go toward hiring greeters at each of the elementary schools. The greeters would have no formal security responsibilities, but they would greet and sign in visitors to the buildings and help them get where they need to go.

“The elementary schools have one secretary who is responsible for letting visitors into the building,” Feser said. “Often she is multi-tasking with telephone calls, addressing the needs of a staff member, and assisting the principal with work.”

Some safety steps were implemented right after Sandy Hook. Dr. Feser and Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli Jr. said some of the measures were planned or already under way and that the tragic shootings made completing the measures a priority.

For example, in the last three weeks, new locks have been put on classroom doors in five school buildings. The old locks had to be locked from the outside; now teachers will be able to lock them from the inside. Feser said doors in all the city schools will be upgraded by the end of the school year.

Also, police now have access to images from school cameras. “If there was someone trying to get into a building, police would be able to see the perimeter immediately,” she said.

Feser, Blake and Mello have met several times to talk about security, and Richetelli and a team of people from Milford attended a recent symposium on school safety.

Feser said some school districts have asked for up to $1 million for security initiatives, but she doesn’t think Milford is ready to do that. From initial talks, officials believe that safety measures installed in 2003 put a solid safety program in place.

But she and others are doing a focused review of safety, and if they decide more measures are needed, she appears ready to ask for them.

“Once a thorough and detailed security assessment is performed, we anticipate that there may be substantial capital expenditures that will  be necessary for future security measures; these will be coordinated with the mayor and boards of finance and aldermen,” she wrote in her 2013-14 budget proposal.