Members of the Fairfield Police Department are spearheading the efforts to improve security in each of Fairfield's public and private schools -- efforts that include the proposed creation of new positions in the department.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara presented the department's requested budget to the Board of Finance Thursday. The request includes a 4 percent -- or $597,000 -- increase over the current fiscal year budget.
Last year, the department turned a flat (actually, slightly decreased) budget request.
The proposed increase for the coming fiscal year is largely due to the proposal to carve out three new officer positions and one sergeant position to form a school security task force that would include the existing two school resource officers and D.A.R.E. officers.
MacNamara said this task force is based on the department's similar traffic enforcement unit that was created a few years ago.
"We carved out from our existing staff four officers and one supervisor to focus on traffic enforcement and education," MacNamara said.
"As a result, we saw a 10 percent decrease in the accident rate from last year to this year. The level of enforcement has increased and the complaints have decreased."
The proposed school security unit would focus solely on safety and crime prevention in schools, and would provide a police presence in the district that MacNamara hopes will foster better relationships between the schools and the department.
"This is not an impulsive reaction on our part because of Newtown," MacNamara said, referring to the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting that left 20 first graders and six educators dead.
"We took emotions out of it -- we need to address a vulnerable population," he added. "We don't have the luxury to say that it probably won't happen again."
The positions are part of the department's comprehensive three-tiered plan to increase security in the schools.
The first tier has been in the works since early January, when members of the police department first sat down with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Title to discuss security in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
Currently, Sgt. Suzanne Lussier and Lt. James Perez are conducting physical site assessments of each of the (upwards of 30) schools in the district.
The goal of the site surveys is to determine vulnerable areas in each building. Lussier said last week. Once the assessments are complete, the department will make overall, district-wide security recommendations to the Board of Education, as well as site-specific suggestions.
"There will be a lot of changes made in the way the schools are accessed during the day," Lussier said.
The plan's second tier is providing consistent security training to all the teachers, administrators, and other school personnel across the district.
The final tier is to establish better communication and information sharing between the department and schoolteachers and administrators. Adding the school security unit to the department would facilitate this.
The department responded to two calls last week that were the result of increased communication between officers and the district. One call involved a disgruntled parent who threatened an elementary school paraprofessional, Lussier said.
The other involved a 2009 Fairfield Ludlowe High School graduate who reportedly posted on his Facebook account that he could "envision himself as a mass murderer" and could be "the next shooter," Lussier said.
A school resource officer at Ludlowe High School was informed and in turn reported the threat to the Fairfield Police Department The individual lives in California with a parent; police alerted California authorities, who determined the former student needed to be hospitalized.
"Police want to know what's going on," Lussier said, whether it's about a student's expulsion, the arrest of a student, if a student is a victim of violence at home, or any other causes for concern.
"We want the schools to know what resources the student should have right away."
While other towns -- including neighboring Westport -- have considered contracting outside security consulting firms to conduct site assessments and recommend a plan, Fairfield's department is doing the work in-house for the district.
"It builds a level of trust and two-way communication that can only be fostered through the local police department," Lussier said.
Plus, armed guards and outside security personnel aren't familiar with "your street, your town, the crime trends," nor do they have powers of arrest, Lussier added.
"Schools should be a safe place for learning, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that."