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Sunday, January 13, 2013

‘We Have to Protect Children Now’

To the Editor:

To the residents of Westport. Right now the Board of Education is going through the process of doing a “security audit.”

While this is well and good, and instead of taking the advice of the excellent police and fire chiefs at no cost, the board will spend money asking retired police officers for the same answers we can get at no cost from our existing staff; this is business as usual for the Board of Education.

However, in the meantime we have to take logical action and use the advice and knowledge of the excellent police and fire officials we have on staff.

Cutting to the chase, the odds of a copycat attack from another mentally ill person are high. Therefore we have to protect the children now. Not wait a year for the results of a study done by outsiders.

The easiest and best way to maximize the protection is to assign a police officer to each school. Then add the shatterproof linings to the glass (so a bullet will penetrate, but not send glass shards flying and third to maintain proper door and entrance security. I am sure Dale Call (the chief of police) has a number of other recommendations, some other basic items such as one button call devices that require only the push of button in any one of multiple locations to call the police.

Simply by returning the number of authorized police officers to the 2004 level the police department has the needed 8 additional officers. The cost of the officers pay, benefits and allowance towards their retirement is just over 900 thousand the first year, then tops off at about 1.5 million per year after a few years (depending when the full 72 officers are on staff, it takes about a year to fill a police officer position with a mix of full and part-time officers).

This avoids any union issues, insurance issues etc. and does not require re-inventing the wheel. The systems exist, are proven and automatically mean coverage is available when officers are sick, etc and all the other management issues that are involved.

Some things are not logical and the politics that point towards these emotional solutions have to be avoided.

1: Unarmed guards - the trade term for an unarmed guard is “soft target” all the excitement of facing real “enemy” with no danger. So no protection, and actually will make the schools a more tempting target, as the mentally ill person has the fantasy of being able to shoot at a person in a uniform, without the risk.

2: Non-police armed guards. Perhaps the worst of all worlds, no arrest power and huge liabilities for the town. Dollars and cents, a first class armed guard will cost as much as a police officer, add the training, background checks etc, and the cost is probably higher.

And a $20 an hour rent-a-guard—that’s scary to think about; By default if the guard has the permits and is willing to work for that it almost tells you that person cannot qualify for the higher paying work. (yes, some people are willing to do it for that rate, as a public service, but we cannot count on that)

3: Not giving the police officers the needed extra equipment to maximize the officers options. Remember, these sort of mentally ill attackers are as likely to use a Molotov cocktail (glass jar full of gasoline) as they are a gun. The worst school killing in U.S. history was done with explosives, not guns. Therefore the officer needs the extra items.

Here is my recommended list of extra items and training the officer on duty at our schools need: TRAINING IS KEY, RESPONSE SPEED COMES FROM CONSTANT TRAINING

A: Taser, in a hostage situation the ability to have a non-lethal option instantly is crucial. The officer needs both types. The standard hand held version (normally carried on the opposite side from the pistol) and a rifle type, locked where it can be accessed quickly if needed. This gives extra distance- and keeping the attacker as far away as possible it key.

B: Smoke grenade, tear gas grenade. These are superb for non-lethal delay and protection. If a mentally ill attacker gets into the Staples entrance way for example and is trying to get hostages in those first few seconds the officer is stuck, he/she cannot fire a gun (the movie stuff where the officer hits the bad guy and there is no risk to the bystander is exactly that, movie stuff not real life). But an officer can throw smoke and tear gas at the attacker when the attacker is most vulnerable and give the potential hostages time to get away. and possibly give the officer the ability to hit the attacker with the taser. A gas mask will also be part of the officer equipment.

C: Twice a year training, probably once at the FBI center and once at the State police center. If a officer has to fire a gun, the decision is usually one that has to be made in fractions of second. And the issues when dealing in a closed situation like a school are far more complex than those of a combat zone where a missed round at worse misses anyone and at best hits another enemy soldier.

In addition, we need to focus that the best defense is to keep any attacker off balance and out of the building. And if the attacker enters the building out of the classroom areas. This is done with two specific tools.

1: Quick dropping gates or doors that block off the corridors from the main entrance areas; these have to be carefully coordinated with the fire department. Usually with both push-buttons and manual releases about 10 feet away, on the inside. If a mentally ill attacker gets into the entrance way, the person at the door has the ability to shut the corridors with the push of a button. This button also puts the school on lock down and alerts the police and fire departments.

2: The ability for the police officer on duty to fire the tear gas or smoke grenade to the OUTSIDE of the school. Again, the key is always to keep the attacker outside if possible.

Now, there are some people whose reactions are this is overkill; the reality is these are basic items and I am sure the chief of police and the fire chief have others. Basic secure installation fortification, engineering and training has been the same since days of the Roman empire. Only the tools have changed. As an example, instead of sentries at each door, we can easily add cameras and monitors to all the exterior doors.

In addition to the items listed above, over the longer term sound/noise devices should be looked at: These come in several classes. Some devices create loud sounds that make it impossible for the person to think or even stand up etc. I don’t know how far along any of these tools are, but certainly for exterior protection and for use in the entrances they could be far better than the existing tools .However, for right now we have to take action based on standard, tried and true methods.

First rule, upon identification try to keep any attacker out of the building.

Second rule, if the attacker gets in the building limit the areas the attacker can access and attempt to incapacitate the attacker.

Third rule, if the attacker gets into a “soft target” area (hallways, class rooms) have a plan and trained people to get the targets (students and teachers) out of the area and incapacitate the attacker.

No. 1, we need to raise the number of police back to 2004 levels and authorize the overtime and part-time officers to fill the gap until those officers are hired. The police can start roving patrols at once: This will immediately increase security.

Ron S. Friedson


Posted 01/13/13 at 02:11 AM  Permalink


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