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armed guards

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district trustees voted decisively 6-1 against arming its school guards with firearms after nearly nine months of intense debate.

More than 100 Northport parents, students and concerned residents attended the Nov. 28 board of education meeting at Northport High School where the community members were given one last opportunity to give their opinions on whether to hire armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February that killed 17 people. The majority of those who took to the mic to voice an opinion stood overwhelmingly against the proposition.

“The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe, you will not deter crime, you are not avoiding a school shooting, and you will be escalating a dangerous situation not de-escalating it,” Greg Perles, of East Northport, said.

The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe…”

— Greg Perles

Andrew Rapiejko, president of Northport-East Northport board of education, said district trustees have received an outpouring of emails from the community over the past several months, voicing their opinions on the issue of hiring armed security guards.

“I did note that some of the comments were kind of short and to the point, on quite a number of them I did note that people took a lot of time to write a number of paragraphs, not using a form letter but their feelings and describing their opinions, researching and looking at options one way or another,” he said. “I want to say I really appreciate that and thank you for that.”

David Stein, vice president of the school board, had put forth a proposal for the district to hire 10 armed security guards, one for each of the district’s buildings, for a trial period of 120 days with instruction to Superintendent Robert Banzer to provide an in-depth analysis of the program after 90 days for the board of education to review.

“That’s ridiculous, with all due respect,” trustee David Badanes said. “If there’s no incident in 120 days does it prove armed security guards work? We have many school districts that don’t have armed security guards and have not faced an issue. It proves nothing.”

That’s ridiculous, with all due respect.”

— David Badanes

Badanes said he was “touched” by emails a number of recent Northport graduates and students who, he said, spoke out unanimously against armed guards. He felt armed security personnel also negatively impact students of minority racial groups or low-income families and lead to an increased likelihood of arrests for low-level offenses such as disorderly conduct.

There are approximately five Suffolk County school districts, including neighboring Kings Park, that have moved forward with a decision to arm security personnel with firearms. Donna McNaughton, a Northport board member, said it was “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make” but opposed doing the same.

“I am not comfortable as a member of a school board that I could craft an RFP, or proposal, and sanction how you could arm someone properly to protect students,” she said. “I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

If the district had moved to hire 10 armed guards, trustee Lori McCue said it would have cost the district approximately $450,000 for one full school year.

“I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

—Donna McNaughton

“So many people will say we cannot put a price on the safety of our students, and I 100 percent agree with you in theory,” McCue said. “Unfortunately, we sit up here every year at budget time and have to put a price on every single thing we do for our students. That is a very large number for something we cannot predict the outcome of.”

Stein, who has law enforcement background and is a retired lieutenant from New York Police Department, was the sole vote in support of the district hiring armed guards. The board member said his decision was based, in part, on learning that Suffolk County Police Department reported an average response time of five minutes to an emergency at the district’s Oct. 11 security forum and had never conducted a full-scale drill in any of the district’s buildings. One notable exception he said is Ocean Avenue Elementary School, which often has a police officer on site or less than a minute away, who knows the building and has drilled on site.

“As a board and district, how do we address that disparity between how different schools are being protected? How do we reconcile it? I don’t know that we can,” he said. “We have to protect our schools in some fashion now while lobbying Suffolk County for additional programs and support.”

I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards.”

— James Connor

Several parents asked the board to move forward to improve security by constructing security vestibules at each school building, ensure all doors are closed and armed at all times, trim hedges and bushes away from windows and entryways, ensure staff members are trained in first aid and tourniquet use, and make sure both teachers and students take lockdown drills seriously. Several Northport High School students had said their peers often laugh, chat and text on their phones during drills.

James Connor, a sophomore at Northport High School who advocated against armed guards at several board meetings, said he was relieved by the school board members decision.

“I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards,” he said. “Regarding school security, there are a lot of steps left to take, but in my opinion armed guards are not one of them.”

His sentiments were also echoed by his  mother, Amy — relief at the board’s decision.

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Northport sophomore James Connor speaks at the Nov. 8 board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

It has been months since the Northport-East Northport school district hosted a meeting asking for community input for armed guards, now the subject will finally be seeing a vote.

The Northport-East Northport school board voted 5-to-1 at its Nov. 8 meeting to move
forward with the vote for armed guards at its Nov. 28 meeting. Trustee Allison Noonan was the lone dissenter.

“I’m not a fan of taking too many more baby steps on this,” board Vice President David Stein said.

Armed guards are plagued by accidents and dangerous misuse of their weapons.”

— James Connor

The district hosted a public meeting in March, shortly after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the local community largely came out to support hiring armed personnel to protect its students. Since then, the district has hosted two public forums, one on Oct. 11
examining the pros and cons of armed guards that featured members of the Suffolk County Police Department, the Northport Police Department and the Asharoken Police Department. A second Nov. 1 meeting was held to discuss the emotional and psychological impact of armed guards with a panel composed of some of the district’s social workers, principals and health and wellness teachers.

As time has gone on, the uniform opinion of that original March meeting has fractured into the two camps of people who support and those against hiring armed guards. James Connor, a sophomore at Northport High School, spoke at the Nov. 8 meeting where he cited situations such as the recent shootings at both the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, where security personnel and police were shot and killed by an active shooter.

“Armed guards are plagued by accidents and dangerous misuse of their weapons,” Connor said. “Guards aren’t a surefire way to resolve an active shooter scenario … Guns are not the answer.”

At most schools prevention is the trend rather than reaction.” 

— Nicole Raganella

East Northport resident Nicole Raganella, a professional therapist, said that without armed guards, the impetus and responsibility to protect students instead falls on the mental healthprofessionals in the district.

“At most schools prevention is the trend rather than reaction,” Raganella said. “It is your job to provide effective security, and if all these measures fail and a threat is active, are you prepared to tell staff and students that the responsibility is on them to defend themselves?”

School trustees raised questions about the costs associated with armed guards and whether they should wait to receive request for proposalsfrom companies before they move forward to vote. The board asked that Superintendent Robert Banzer and his staff provide the district with additional information on the estimated costs of hiring armed guards as well as the type of guards the district would plan to hire before the Nov. 28 meeting.

“There’s a big difference between us voting on hiring [Smithtown-based Arrow Security] guards, which you might find at any movie theater, and the kind of guard I would envision if I were going to do this here,” Stein said.

“Some would argue having armed guards on campus increases students stress.”

—Allison Noonan

Noonan said the school should not have a conversation about armed guards without citing the social and emotional impact of having those personnel in or near the school.

“Some would argue having armed guards on campus increases students stress,” she said. “I would say you cannot extrapolate one from the other, and you can’t talk about one without the other.”

Noonan requested that the board also vote to discuss creating a committee or public task force that could discuss the emotional impacts of the school’s increasing security measures on students and their overall feeling of safety at the Nov. 28 meeting. When that failed, the board voted to discuss such a proposition at its Dec. 13 board meeting. Noonan was the lone vote against holding the discussion on that date, feeling action was needed soon.

The next board meeting will be held Nov. 28 at the William J. Brosnan Administrative Building on Laurel Avenue. Public session starts at 7 p.m.

All of the Northport-East Northport board of education’s agendas can be found online here starting a few days prior to the meeting. 

Law enforcement representatives from Suffolk County Police Department and local police departments discuss armed security personnel in schools at a Northport board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Northport-East Northport school district has been taking it slow and steady in considering hiring armed guards for its school buildings. The board of education is in the process of soliciting professional opinions from local police and security advisers to determine the path forward for its schools.

About 70 people filed into a public meeting hosted by the school board Oct. 11, which included members of the Suffolk County Police Department, Northport Police Department, Asharoken Police Department, the school district’s retained attorneys from Ingerman Smith LLP, the district’s insurance provider New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal and the district’s security adviser to answer the board and the community questions about the potential impact of hiring armed security guards.

“There is a lot of interest about this throughout the county,” said Suffolk County Police Department Inspector Michael Romagnoli, the commanding officer of the department. “All are debating this topic at similar levels.”

The board hosted a previous meeting March 1 where the community came out in droves to voice support for the district hiring armed guards, though when asked whether he would want armed guards Leonard Devlin, the district’s security consultant, said he would prefer not to.

It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools.’

— Leonard Devlin

“It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools,” Devlin said. “If we were to have armed security personnel, the officer would only respond if there was an active shooter, not if there was a physical confrontation with a student, teacher or of any nature.”

The district said it has upgraded multiple security measures since the start of the year. Devlin said the district hired 12 new unarmed guards, which now totals 30 guards who patrol campus grounds during the school day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The district also purchased six new security vehicles to complement an existing six, which should arrive in about a month.

Security vestibules are already installed or close to being installed for all schools except Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Ocean Avenue Elementary and Northport Middle School, which the security consultant said would be completed in the future as part of the district’s ongoing $40 million capital bond project. The district said it has installed 30 new cameras this year for a new total of 400 throughout the buildings, though these are monitored sparingly throughout the day and in the late-night hours, Devlin said.

One of the biggest questions raised surrounding the need for armed guards in schools is whether local police response time is fast enough to deal with an armed assailant. Romagnoli said their response time for local cars was four to five minutes, while Northport Police Chief William Ricca said their response time was three to four minutes. The inspector said that a school shooting comes in as a Priority 0, the highest priority, the same as if a call came in that an officer was shot. Romagnoli said since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado cops are trained to enter an active shooter situation immediately upon arriving at the scene.

“Our involvement in the schools has increased tremendously within the last five years, our number of school incidents in the 2nd Precinct has gone up 50 percent, and the officers have more familiarity with the schools just from their daily patrols,” SCPD Deputy Inspector Matthew McCormick said.

Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island.”

— David Stein

Board Vice President David Stein said he was concerned it was not possible for every member of every police department to be intimate with the district’s six separate school facilities.

“Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island,” Stein said.

Romagnoli said the 2nd Precinct has one school resource officer assigned to cover all school districts in the area, not accounting for the other police officers who sometimes take up SRO duties part time on top of their normal police work. The SRO is responsible for being a liaison from the district to the police and for safety and crime prevention in schools.

While some members of the board questioned if guards should be on the premises for longer than regular school hours, to protect kids in after-school activities and sports, but Devlin said it came down to money. He estimated armed guards working at approximately $15 an hour for an eight-hour day would cost the district $208,200, if one guard for each of the district’s nine school campuses were allotted. Though Devlin added if the district wants total coverage for the day, including an hour break for each guard, it would have to hire another three to cover them on their breaks, adding up to just under $400,000.

Police representatives admitted armed guards and police arriving on scene of an emergency could present other problems. There is potential for a “blue on blue” situation, where two armed responders potentially confront each other. Current school security recently changed their uniform to be a bright gold color, but there is no consistency in the uniform between armed presences in other schools. Romagnoli said because of these inconsistencies it’s important the district keep a clear line of communication to the police departments and for dispatch to know of the armed presence inside the school.

We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

— Michael Romagnoli

“Our protocol is the uniformed officer responding is in charge,” Romagnoli said. “We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

Those on the panel representing the district’s liability concerns said insurance would cover the district in most cases should an armed guard be present. John Peppard, the senior vice president of NYSIR, the school’s insurance handler, said the only time the school might have a problem is if the guards, as school employees, went rogue in some way.

Local resident Denise Schwartz said despite assurances from local police departments promising prioritized response, the comments made by the panel members did not instill much optimism, especially considering the presence of just one SCPD SRO and the little time the district monitors the security cameras.

“Several things they said made me feel even less safe,” Swartz said.

For Northport resident Tammie Topel, who said she’s still on the fence about hiring armed guards, the meeting did little to eliminate the catch 22 inherent in the decision.

“I think that it opens up whether you do, or you don’t, you’re either not indemnified, or there’s going to be a lawsuit, or there might be an accidental shooting,” Topel said. “There’s 400 cameras that are not being monitored at all times, so what’s the sense of wasting that money on cameras … they should be monitored if that’s what we’re going to be using them for.”

The district will be hosting another workshop Nov. 1 where it will discuss the emotional and psychological impact of having armed guards in schools. On Nov. 8, the board will discuss whether it will put the item on the agenda for vote at a subsequent meeting.

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Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

As Commack school officials propose nearly $300,000 in additional security measures and upgrades for next year, many parents came forward looking for the answer to one question: “What about armed guards?”

“Let’s get real — let’s make this part of the discussion,” resident Timothy Griffin said at the March 8 board of education meeting. “It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”

Richard Schramm, director of facilities, said that Commack school district currently employs 23 security guards, most of which are assigned to specific individual buildings. A smaller number are designated as patrol guards along with two security supervisors, according to Schramm, who roam the district throughout the school day.

It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”
— Timothy Griffin

Anastasia Vetter told board members they should be making increased security a priority over mental health monitoring.

“As much as you try to incorporate all these teachings about anxiety and how to handle children with problems, there’s always going to be one you’re not going to get,” she said. “And I don’t know if my child or someone else’s child is going to have to pay the price.”

Ian Chaikin asked why the school district is only now battening down its hatches in the event of a shooter situation.

“Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?” Chaikin said. “You guys gotta get on the ball.”

Another resident called for armed guards as well as locked vestibules at all eight buildings in the district, locked parking lot gates and metal detectors upon entering the school.

School administrators have built in nearly $300,000 of security upgrades to the district’s 2018-19 drafted budget. Schramm said there is $263,500 of remaining bond funds in order to install new classroom lock sets at Commack Middle School and Commack High School. The proposal also includes pulling $15,000 from the reserves to upgrade the security staff’s radios and $15,000 in the annual budget for upgrade the district’s security vehicles.

Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?”
— Ian Chaikin

Superintendent Donald James assured the speakers that the District Security Connector Group will be formed in upcoming weeks, consisting of Commack security personnel, teachers, administrators, board trustees, two parents for each grade level, and two community members-at-large (residents without school-aged children) in addition to the superintendent himself. This group will be charged with crafting a request-for-proposal to hire an outside agency to do a comprehensive security review of the district and consider the community’s suggestions — including whether to hire armed guards.

The funds to hire an outside security company to review the school district’s current practices and provide a list of suggestions is built into the facilities portion of the 2018-19 draft budget, according to Schramm.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. File Photo Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Students in Mount Sinai will come back to school after this weekend greeted by new armed security guards.

The Mount Sinai board of education voted unanimously March 8 to hire four armed guards to patrol the school campus. Three of the armed guards will be stationed in and around the three main buildings on the campus, where the elementary, middle and high schools sit, while the fourth will be used to patrol the grounds and surrounding fences. The board said the guards will not be involved in normal disciplinary activities.

“My concern is based on response time. The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“My concern is based on response time,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

Brosdal also said he was also fearful that Mount Sinai is the type of nice area that would attract a shooting.
“We fit the profile of a school that gets hit,” he said.

As the national discussion over guns in schools lingers with no true federal legislation in sight, local school districts are spending budgetary funds to hire armed guards to protect children. Mount Sinai joins Miller Place School District and other districts across Long Island in hiring armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14.

While Mount Sinai school board President Lynn Capobianco said that the district is currently looking for a risk assessment to be conducted, many residents at the meeting expressed disappointment that the district did not conduct one before hiring the armed guards.

“I believe we do need to take a look at what we are doing with school security — assessing our own risk after sort of seems like auditing our own taxes and then telling the IRS we don’t mean to pay,” resident Joe Latini said. “To me, it’ really is important that we have a third party risk assessment team come in here and tell us what we should do to secure the schools.”

School board Vice President Michael Riggio said the board wanted to get the armed guards in as soon as possible.

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent.”

— Michael Riggio

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent,” Riggio said.

The board is buying the services of Retail Security Services Inc. based out of Medford. The guards will be paid $40 per hour. The board said a future meeting will show where the guards will be placed in the budget.

Some parents in the meeting expressed that they wanted the guards to have military or prison guard backgrounds, but Brosdal said that when working as superintendent in William Floyd School District, that employs a number of security personnel, the most problems he had between security and the students were with those who used to work in Rikers penitentiary.

“Picture a guy whose done 20 years or more in Rikers with high school kids,” he said, pausing. “Not a good mix.”

Mount Sinai residents were split on whether they thought armed guards would truly protect the school’s children.

“I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place.”

— Therese Blanton

“Regardless of what your stance is, I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place,” Mount Sinai resident Chris Hart said. “These are open grounds — this is a large facility.”

Therese Blanton said she did not think the four armed guards would be enough to protect the campus.

“I still don’t understand how letting one armed guard in each building will protect this entire campus, including our perimeter,” Blanton said. “There’s no hard structure around and you have soft targets when they are out playing on the playground. I think a lot of people who are in my position are intimidated by guns in schools.”

Henry Dreyer said he too would prefer a full risk assessment done first, and that more parents would come to each and every meeting to help the district improve on a regular basis.

“I don’t like it, it’s unfortunate that they took this route,” he said of the board. “I would like if there were more mental health care in here. I have kids in the school — second grade and kindergarten — I attend the board of education meetings regularly, and there’s usually seven or eight of us here. Last week there were about 100 people here, and this time there’s more than 50. If they’d come down here every week, it would be better.”

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district parents packed the cafeteria of William J. Brosnan School to standing-room only Thursday night to make sure their desire for increased security presence in the wake of the Florida shootings was heard loud and clear.

“The elephant in the room is armed security,” said Anthony Raganella, a 23-year veteran of New York Police Department from East Northport. “I 100 percent, no, I 1,000 percent applaud Miller Place Superintendent Dr. Marianne Cartisano and the Miller Place school board for hiring four armed retired police officers for their security.”

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons.”

— Joseph Sabia

While Miller Place parents were divided and conflicted about their district’s decision to place retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside their school buildings as of Feb. 26, Northport-East Northport parents gave the concept a standing round of applause. Many urged the board of education trustees to urgently take similar actions on March 1.

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons,” said Joseph Sabia, a former board trustee. “Arm them and get them out in the field.”

Sabia pointed out that the district’s security consultant, Leonard Devlin, a retired NYPD detective, said that 26 of the district’s 31 security personnel are former law enforcement officers with backgrounds with the NYPD and FBI. As such, many of Northport’s school guards are already trained to use firearms.

“If you go back 20 years ago on the eve of Columbine … in some ways, we’ve come a long ways,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We also know there is significant work to be done.”

The superintendent and Devlin gave a presentation on the upcoming measures the district is taking to improve its nine buildings’ security and student safety.

Devlin, who was hired by the district about a year ago, said the number of security cameras districtwide has increased from 351 to nearly 400 in the last year, along with the installation of a new burglary system. He admitted his security staff would still like to see more installed.

Michele Pettignano Coggins voices her feelings on armed security guards. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A fast pass visitor management system has been put in place at both East Northport and Northport middle schools, according to Devlin, in which guests entering the building must show his or her driver’s’ license. The license is scanned and run through a background check to ensure they are not sexual predators, according to the consultant, and has been successful twice. Upon questions from parents, Devlin admitted that the district does not currently pay to check visitors against a criminal record database even though the system can do so. The fast pass system is expected to be put into place at the high school within the next week, and at all six elementary schools within the next three months.

There is approximately $10,000 in the administration’s draft 2018-19 budget to purchase new uniforms for the district’s security guards to make them more visible by incorporating a bright, reflective gold color.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible,” Devlin said. “It’s a deterrent.”

The superintendent said the district is ready to begin construction of security vestibules at each of its buildings, a measure that was approved by voters in February 2017. The first building will be Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and plans for two other buildings are currently in Albany awaiting state approval. Banzer said the goal is to have all complete by 2019.

Inside the buildings, the superintendent said the district is 95 percent complete replacing all door locks so they can be locked from inside the classroom by a staff member with a key.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible.”

— Leonard Devlin

“These are two of the major initiatives that are underway in our district right now,” Banzer said.

Parents came forward armed with suggestions on how they would like to see security improved for students, staff and the buildings. Kathy Affrunti, of Northport, asked if there was serious discussion of installing metal detectors while Northport resident Michele Gloeckner asked why the district’s proposed plans for the security vestibules didn’t include bulletproof glass.

“When we conceived of this idea there is thicker glass, we didn’t necessarily think of bulletproof glass,” he said. “It is it something we can go back and reconsider.”

Other residents spoke of replacing ground-level windows with ballistic-proof glass, improved training for teachers and staff members, implementation of better mental health programs and creation of a task force to address school safety concerns.

“There should be a master wish list of what a guy like you would like to see in a perfect place, what we should do, where we are and what we need to get,” said David Stein, vice president of the board, to a security consultant. “We can’t execute on everything in a year, but we should prioritize it.”

Northport board trustees have asked Delvin to provide a full list of ideal security items and personnel in the upcoming weeks and have agreed to revisit the issue during the upcoming March budget presentations.