Groton Town police adopt new policy for school safety

Groton — Inspired by an early March meeting among several police chiefs and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Groton Town police have adopted a new policy regarding officer presence in schools.

Called “Every School, Every Day,” the approach is not altogether different from what the department already does. There’s a resource officer assigned to Fitch, and some patrol officers stop by the other schools from time to time. Officers sometimes are in the schools to oversee events, too, or teach safety programming.

But now all 41 patrol officers must stop in at least once per shift if there’s a school in their coverage area. It doesn’t have to be at the same time — in fact, it’s encouraged not to be — but the idea is to deter crime and give faculty and students peace of mind.

“This is low cost to us — we already have the people out there,” Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. said. “The patrol officers have a lot to do, but because it’s so important to the public and the schools that we are making sure we do what we can to make others safe, we needed to do it.”

Fusaro said the effort is the brainchild of Watertown police Chief John Gavallas, who also is the president of the Connecticut Police Chief’s Association.

Gavallas brought it up during the March 9 meeting with Blumenthal in Wethersfield, Fusaro said, and said it has been working well in his town. School safety came up after participants shared their experiences with the state’s “red flag” provision, which allows police officers and family members in Connecticut to seek extreme risk protection orders, or “red flag” orders, for individuals who pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

To Fusaro, the initiative is multifaceted. Done well, it will help officers build relationships with children. It should put faculty at ease at a time when students are calling for legislators to take action on school safety. And there’s the crime-prevention element: Officers don’t stop in the same store at the same time every day because then potential robbers would know when to strike. The same idea is behind the randomized school stops.

Fusaro said he understands that not every department will adopt the initiative. Some have more school resource officers and might not need to send in patrol officers, too. Others are understaffed and can’t afford to pull officers from somewhere else to do school walkthroughs.

“This is an added layer of security,” Fusaro said, noting that officers already work regularly with educators on things such as lockdown drills. “Given today’s environment, we wanted to lean forward. The world has changed.”

Officials discussed the new policy Thursday evening during a community conversation on school safety at the Robert E. Fitch High School. The forum was a collaboration of Groton Public Schools, Children First Groton and the city and town of Groton. Panelists were to discuss safety and crisis planning, cyber security, school climate and students' calls for action. Participants then were scheduled to work in groups to outline the biggest concerns and come up with potential solutions.

l.boyle@theday.com

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