During a discussion on school security at the last Board of Education (BOE) meeting, a conversation was started on School Resource Officers (SROs). After some debate, the board moved 5-2 to recommend that the Board of Selectmen (BOS) hire at least one armed SRO for each of Brookfield's four school.
Board member Victor Katz, who initiated the discussion, said he has been thinking about this security measure since Dec. 14 — when 20 children and six educators were gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Newtown — and decided the morning of the BOE meeting to broach the subject that night.
While the town does have a Youth Officer — Brookfield police officer Gary Gramling — the recommendation from the BOE is for full-time officers to be stationed at each school, with special training working with children.
“There’s an additional layer of protection and it acts as a deterrent,” said Katz, who has two children in the Brookfield school system, at Center Elementary School (CES) and Whisconier Middle School (WMS). “As a board member, a parent in this town, as a resident, I’d like to see that extra layer… I feel like if I didn’t propose this I’m not doing my job.”
Board member Harry Shaker, who was one of the two votes against the motion (along with Vice Chair Jane Miller), said he is not opposed to having SROs in each school but wanted more time to consider the proposal.
“I was against voting in the moment to ask the town for over $300,000,” he explained, stating that he would prefer the request come directly from the residents — through a petition or letter campaign — rather than through the BOE.
“We’re doing everything we can within our financial boundaries and resources to make those public buildings safe,” Shaker said. “But without this being government subsidized, it will be hard to figure out how to pay for it.”
According to board Chairman Ray DiStephan, “It would be the town of Brookfield who hires the officers then assigns them to the schools.”
DiStephan said that while there was “some expectation that we balance the cost in our education budget,” he fears that might be detrimental. “I don’t want SROs in the building at the expense of teachers,” if funding had to be diverted, “Our role is to educate these kids.”
The BOE met with Brookfield Police Chief and former FBI agent Robin Montgomery shortly after the Dec. 14 shooting to discuss safety and security concerns. The option of hiring SROs through the Brookfield Police Department was suggested then, with Montgomery estimating the annual cost per officer to be around $75,000, however it was not made a part of the three-phase plan currently being discussed and implemented.
DiStephan, who at first argued against the idea of stationing officers at each school, said when it came to a vote, “I didn’t feel I had enough to reject the idea.”
Though at first he worried about the atmosphere armed officers would create in the schools, DiStephan now sees this role as “really a community piece… focused on the community relations between the police department and the students,” rather than “disruptive or counterproductive.”
DiStephan said he still has some concerns — such as the sustainability of such a program year-over-year, the effectiveness of armed patrols in preventing violence and finding and training the right people — however, “If anyone in a school building has a gun, it should be a police officer, not just trained how to shoot but how to deal with tense situations,” he said.
The board and school administration will be drafting a letter to the BOS urging them to consider the proposal, which would still have to go to a public hearing and town vote (either a town meeting or referendum) before being implemented.
“This is going to take a process anyway,” Shaker said, adding that he might ultimately vote in favor when it goes to the residents.
“If people want this, let’s find out if they really want it,” DiStephan agreed. “If they do, I’ll support it.”