While addressing the Town Council on Monday evening, South Windsor Chief of Police Matthew Reed said that there was one key in making schools in town safe.
“It boils down to relationships,” Reed said.
Specifically, Reed said that he is in frequent communication with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kate Carter on making tragedies such as the one that took place in Newtown last weekend more difficult to take place in South Windsor.
Reed told the Town Council that, in speaking with his colleagues in other towns, he is fortunate to have that type of ongoing relationship.
South Windsor has tended to be ahead of the curve on such matters.
Indeed, in 1999, then Police Chief Gary Tyler requested that the Town Council approve a school resource officer. Reed said that Tyler’s request was “summarily dismissed” until a day later, when the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado took place.
“Police in schools is not unreasonable,” Reed said.
In 2006, the police department along with the school system launched the Safe Schools Initiative, the purpose of which, according to Reed, was to install “access control systems” and video cameras in the town’s schools.
In 2009, the town received a $50,000 grant, which partially funded the installation of access systems - where a visitor has to push a button and get permission to gain entry into the building - in all five elementary schools and Timothy Edwards Middle School, Reed said. The video systems at the high school was also upgraded, Reed said.
“This was met with not that much resistance [from the community],” Reed said. “Sadly, the tragedy in Newtown revealed why we have those types of systems.”
Reed said that it was not a matter of overreacting.
“To think that this can’t happen in a town like this is not realistic,” Reed said.
The police also are on school grounds every day as part of their patrol.
“We’re not there 100 percent of the time,” said Reed, but police rather go to the school to establish a presence and also familiarize themselves with the buildings’ layouts in the event of an emergency.
In a telephone interview, Reed said that there was a heightened police presence on Monday, which meant having police cruisers at every school for the morning dropoff. The patrols will continue as normal, with perhaps a few more visits, but nothing that will alarm students or staff.
Also, Reed said that, since 2007, he has spoken at the schools’ convocations, at which he highlights recent school security improvements and reinforces the relationship between the district and the police department.
He also reminds staff of the crisis plan and the importance of wearing their ID badges while on school property.
“In a critical incident, its the way of telling the good guys from the bad guys,” Reed said, who added that in 2010, the state legislature passed a law that required local police departments to work with school districts on crisis planning. Reed said that it was not necessary in South Windsor, because that relationship had already been in existence for some time.
The idea is to make schools a hard target, Reed said.
“I have five children,” Reed said. “All five children are in South Windsor public schools. I have a vested interest in the safety of the schools. Rest assure, I am doing everything to ensure that schools are safe.”
A question was asked regarding whether there were additional measures that can be taken, like installing bullet-proof glass in the school buildings.
Reed responded that there is always a tradeoff between safety and creating a healthy, positive learning environment, not to mention the cost of doing more to secure the buildings.
“Yes, we can come up with recommendations, but you also have to look at practicality,” Reed said.
Mayor Tom Delnicki asked Reed if the police department would be interested in collaborating with the Town Council and the Board of Education in having a town-wide meeting concerning safety in the high school auditorium.
Reed said that he was in discussions with Dr. Carter about having such a meeting, which would likely take place after the holidays.
Councilor Jan Snyder commended Reed for his efforts not just in responding to questions in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, but his preparations during his tenure dating back as a commander in the police department.
“Matt is a tremendous resource that we have in town,” she said.