NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school under siege. A lone gunman walked in, 19 kids and two teachers didn’t make it out alive.
News 8 has an in-depth Back to School report on school safety across the state. More Connecticut school districts have made the decision to hire armed guards for their schools, but how is it working out in districts that already have armed security?
This has become a nauseating necessity of school life in Connecticut and around the country.
Berlin police officers were training to track down an active shooter in a school over the summer. Tactical training is one thing, but after the slow response to the school shooting in Uvalde, where officers took more than an hour to end it, the speed of response is getting a lot of attention.
“Berlin is a small town. The likelihood of getting four, five cops here in rapid succession, time takes too long for these incidents. The faster that we can get into the school or into the building and address the threat, the less loss of life you are going to have,” said Sgt. Ryan Gould with the Berlin Police Department.
That’s why more schools in our state are now hiring armed security officers. If the unthinkable happened, they should trim response time to almost nothing.
Right now, less than 20% of Connecticut schools have armed security, but the number is growing. By state law, to be an armed school safety officer, you have to be a police officer, either current or retired, and you have to be trained every year.
Tom Pjatak was a cop for 18 years. He’s now the lead school safety officer in Derby. They’ve had armed safety officers for five years.
“We want everyone to feel safe when they go home at night and just know when they are in a school setting, they have nothing to worry about. We are here for that,” Pjatak said.
Some school districts in our state have their safety officers conceal their handguns under something like a windbreaker. Others, like Derby, have officers open carry like the police. Either way, they don’t want the fact that they have armed security to be a secret. They want it known that their school is not a soft target.
“They know we’re here, we’re armed. The parents see us every morning, the kids get off the bus, we’re here. Dismissal, when the kids go outside for recess, we’re here, so people in the community know we’re here,” Pjatak said.
Matt Conway. the superintendent of Derby schools, says the key to making everyone comfortable is communication. The town held a number of school forums before rolling out armed officers.
“To be able to address any apprehensions, any misunderstandings, but also to listen to what they thought that might look like and should look like,” Conway said.
Derby parents and kids say they like the peace of mind of having an armed officer in school.
“I think [the kids] feel good about it. They feel safer if anything happens, we’re safe,” said Wilfredo Castillo, a 7th grader.
“It’s scary right now. There are shootings everywhere, with guns, you know. I think it’s safe for the kids,” said Kim Tren.
“You have to have a special skill as a public safety officer with our K through 12 schools,” said Gary MacNamara, a former police chief in Fairfield.
MacNamara says it’s important to remember because Connecticut law mandates armed school guards are police officers. They have a much higher skill set than other armed security guards.
“We shouldn’t focus always on just the gun. We should focus on the person who is carrying the gun. That person comes with skills, knowledge, intuition, experience over many years on what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s suspicious, what should I be doing,” MacNamara said.
The hope is that this is just about peace of mind and the armed officers will never be put to the test.
MacNamara says an armed safety officer is just one piece of school security, and that it’s important that teachers, administrators, experts, and kids get together to talk about the best ways to keep their schools safe.