U.S. Senator tours Milford's storm damage and schools, with eye on safety

Cold winds blew along Bayview Beach on Jan. 25 as Sen. Chris Murphy surveyed waterside homes with Milford Mayor Ben Blake. Milford was one of the junior senator's stops on a tour of the state.

There were two primary topics Murphy discussed with Milford officials. First, was federal funding support for adding School Resource Officers to Milford's public schools. The second was an emphasis on the need for more help in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

“I didn't want another month to go by without coming here and seeing the damage first hand,” Murphy said inside Blake's office before heading out to tour the town. Though he visited Milford at Blake's behest between the devastating storm and his November election, this was Murphy's first official appearance in town since being sworn in.

According to Blake there are roughly 800 homes in Milford suffering substantial damage from the storm, with many of those families still displaced. FEMA defines substantial as at least 50% of the property is seriously damaged. Blake said more homes are significantly damaged but still below that declaration level.

FEMA has approved assistance for 200 homes and is working to clear the rest, but the process takes time. Even more frustrating for homeowners is after approval, funding can come slowly. Complicating the matter is Congress and the Senate.

“Storm cleanup is now a political issue,” Murphy said, voicing displeasure toward partisan politics that have held up recovery efforts. He noted the House of Representatives failed to approve full funding for a recovery bill. The senate is poised to move on their own version within the next week.

“We have to fight to get it,” said Murphy. “We need everything we are owed by the federal government.”

Prior to the stop at Bayview Beach, Murphy met with school officials inside Joseph A. Foran High School to discuss security in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. Inside he talked with Sal Follo, who heads security for Milford's schools, as well as serving as the hockey coach.

Follo told Murphy about a recent practice lock-down at Foran. He said it was the smoothest he had seen in the 11 years he has been at the school.

The town would like to consider supplementing the security force with school resource officers. These would be armed police inside the schools, a proposal that comes with particular concerns above and beyond just finding the funds.

Edward Schuck, interim principal at Foran, addressed a concern from Murphy over criminalizing student behavior that might not require that level of intervention.

“You don't criminalize anything as long as there is a good communication between the police and the administration,” Schuck said.

Police Chief Keith Mello added, “We're trying to direct young people away from criminal and juvenile courts.”

Earlier in Blake's office Mello noted that at one time federal grants were funding nearly 7,000 school resource officers around the nation. Nearly half the high schools in America had at least one SRO available to them.

If the schools want someone involved in security to have a gun, Mello would much prefer that individual be a trained officer. He said arming teachers and security guards could lead to a negative escalation in the culture of guns.

Murphy said the discussion on how to curb if not eradicate gun violence needs to be a broad conversation. While the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary brought the topic forward, the problem is far more reaching than the schools.

“We know these shootings happen in schools, they happen in churches, they happen in movie theaters and they happen in government facilities,” said Murphy.

Murphy is looking toward regulations that might reduce the availability of weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary. He also supports an increase in funding for mental health care.

As the tour came to an end, and officials and press headed back to the warmth of their vehicles on streets amid damaged homes marked with Xs denoting their storm damage, Blake said he had confidence Murphy would be helpful in securing aid for Milford.

“Even as a new senator, he has a lot of clout and a good reputation,” Blake said.