No 'boilerplate' answer for how best to respond to shooting

Resource officer Cindy Munoz watches as students board school buses at the end of the day while on duty at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford on Friday, March 2, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Resource officer Cindy Munoz watches as students board school buses at the end of the day while on duty at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford on Friday, March 2, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

When asked what they would do in an active shooter situation, most area school and youth resource officers gave the same answer.

Activate a lockdown. Communicate with dispatchers. Move toward the threat. Mitigate it, if possible.

But when it comes to what teachers and school administrators should do in the same scenario, the answer is less clear.

“I can’t give you a boilerplate answer because depending on what the situation is, where the teacher is, what the threat is, that would determine how we would direct them to respond,” said Christopher Ferace, deputy chief of the Norwich Police Department.

Because the school board last year elected not to fund a school resource officer position, he said, Norwich police no longer have one in the middle school. Still, Ferace said officers work closely with the schools to prepare them for any potentially violent incident.

What if one shooter is inside the building but another is outside? What if the teacher is outside with students when a shooting begins inside? What if there’s clearly one shooter and the person is nowhere near the teacher’s classroom?

“Sometimes you have to use common sense,” Ferace said.

In the case of the teacher already being outside, for example, he said it likely would be smartest for the teacher to usher students to a neighboring building instead of returning to the school for shelter.

“The biggest thing is preparation and planning, so when the moment comes, you’ve thought of what you’re going to do,” he said.

In Waterford, Officer Steven Whitehead pointed out that officers gave similar answers to the first question because they train together frequently and do so under the same agency, the Law Enforcement Council of Connecticut.

“The schools, administrators, cops — everybody is on the same page,” said Whitehead, whose office is inside the high school. “That’s what’s great about this area.”

He said Waterford particularly is lucky because at least one member of the police force has been stationed in the schools since 1988. In addition to Whitehead, Officer Cynthia Munoz works in Clark Lane Middle School.

“We’re constantly changing, updating, talking about, sharing” best practices, Whitehead said. “God forbid, if we have an incident and know officers from other departments are coming, the administrators and other officers will know exactly what to do.”

Some other local departments don’t have full-time school resource officers, but still have officers dedicated to working in the schools.

In Ledyard, for example, Officer Rick McSwain teaches DARE and spends a good amount of time in the schools but also has regular patrol duties. Via email, he said other patrol officers also walk through the schools in Ledyard and Gales Ferry when they can.

McSwain pointed to an August 2016 active shooter training session as one way the two town entities have worked together. The three-day seminar, he said, resulted in policy changes that increased preparedness and safety in the schools.

Stonington also has a youth officer, Tom Paige, who isn’t technically a school resource officer because he doesn’t have an office in the schools. But according to Capt. Todd Olson, Paige spends a great deal of time in the town’s schools.

Olson said Officer Ed Cullen, who is trained in active violence incidents, also has been working with school officials since the shooting in Parkland, Fla., to ensure their policies are up to date. In the past, officers additionally have drilled at the schools and toured them to become familiar with the buildings' nooks and crannies.

In East Lyme, Officer Don Hull is in his first year as a school resource officer, a position Chief Mike Finkelstein created when the East Lyme force became independent last July. Each of the town’s five schools also has a security staff member.

Hull reiterated much of what other officers said, and added that everyone — not just educators and police — can be proactive.

“We just want people to be vigilant,” he said. “What started with 9/11 — ‘if you see something, say something’ — I think that unfortunately is part of what the education world involves now, too.”

Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

l.boyle@theday.com

Resource officer Cindy Munoz plays chess with eighth-grader Maya Desai in the school library while on duty at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford Friday, March 2, 2018.  Munoz says she talks to the students and has become friends with Maya, who spends her free period in the library where Munoz 's office is located. The two share common interests and have spent time doing origami, playing checkers and now Maya is teaching Munoz how to play chess.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Resource officer Cindy Munoz plays chess with eighth-grader Maya Desai in the school library while on duty at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford Friday, March 2, 2018. Munoz says she talks to the students and has become friends with Maya, who spends her free period in the library where Munoz 's office is located. The two share common interests and have spent time doing origami, playing checkers and now Maya is teaching Munoz how to play chess. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Where are the school resource officers?

 

Where are the school resource officers?

East Lyme


  • One school resource officer, split among five schools

  • Private security employees at each of the five schools

Groton Town


  • One school resource officer, stationed at Fitch High School 

Ledyard


  • One youth officer, teaches DARE and spends time in all Ledyard schools but also has patrol duties 

Montville


  • One school resource officer, teaches DARE and works in the elementary and middle schools

  • One school board-paid safety officer, stationed at the high school 

New London


  • One school resource officer, primarily assigned to the high school but available to respond elsewhere

Norwich


  • One private security employee, stationed at the middle school; new this year after years of paid police presence in the school 

Stonington


  • One youth officer, split among six schools 

Waterford


  • Two school resource officers, stationed at the middle and the high school

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