Open Letter to Groton Town Council - on School Security & Budget

A Public letter to: The Honorable Mayor Somers, Members of the Groton Town Council, Town Manager and Town Clerk

Subject: 2013-2014 Budget

As I am unable to attend the public section of the Council meeting on Feb. 5th to provide my input in person and delivered onto the Town TV channel, please note the following:

1) I am aware that this will be a very difficult year for finances in Groton. There are several projects needing attention and the BOE is faced with major issues, to say nothing of the legal process involving Mr. Kadri.

2) In the past, I have complained about the rising costs in Groton and that, given the choice, I would rather cut back on services and not have property taxes raised. With some long-time families near me now being forced to sell their homes that they have lived in for generations, because of the unfair taxing of unrealized gains, I still feel this way.

3) At the same time, the State of CT is not in good financial condition and will undoubtedly continue to be a problem on the subject of unfunded mandates. This will also affect both the BOE and Town budgets.

4) Meanwhile, the Groton Town Police Station needs upgrades and this especially applies to the shooting range. We are at a stage where the Police need to keep their firearms training as effective as possible....which leads me to our biggest problem...school safety.

5) You know the details of the Newtown massacre and related issues regarding assault weapons and the management of CT mental health. Actions can be taken to control some of those problems, but that still leaves us to actively protect our children. We have to take the necessary steps directly in Groton, regardless of how much financial help we receive...or don't receive...from the State or Federal Government. We also have to recognize that, despite all efforts with gun control and mental health, some of the "bad guys" might get through.

6) I'm aware that the Groton BOE is already taking steps to improve building security, restricting access and (hopefully) using metal detectors. Communications with Groton PD are also being improved for a quicker response in the event of a problem. All of these things should be done. And....I'm also aware that the BOE and current Superintendent are not anxious to turn the schools into expensive armed fortresses.

7) But...we really don't have a choice. What we learned from Newtown is that bad things can happen very quickly and major damage can occur just in the first few minutes of an event. There is no substitute for having trained, armed police right at the schools during the time they are in session who can take immediate action. This needs to occur at all our Groton public schools. We already have at least one youth officer assigned to Fitch Senior HS, but will need additional manpower for such a large facility.

8) I have some knowledge of these things from previous employment working for a firearms manufacturer, running a central station (armed guard response) security facility, providing security systems for prisons, working in the mental health field and clinical day programs for students. I am aware that the type of police security I am recommending is expensive....probably close to $1 million annually. And, as mentioned above, there is no guarantee that Groton will get extra help from outside sources.

9) The answer is to raise taxes in Groton for this specific need. Naturally, the public needs to be informed and "weigh in" with their opinion. That process will take time. Meanwhile, I recommend that existing encumbered funds being held in reserve for other projects be instead used to immediately beef up police presence at all the schools. Previously, we provided funding for downtown Mystic Parking by making adjustments. This time, of course, will require much more effort.

10) Lastly, because of the "copycat crime" condition that can exist after a tragedy such as Newtown, I recommend that the existing safety committee meet with the Groton Police Chief and put a plan together right away.

Thank you, as always, for your time.

Ed Johnson