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Security

Shoreham-Wading River’s superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Shoreham-Wading River school district is looking to get smart, with the help of New York State funds.

The district is finalizing plans to use the state’s Smart School Bond Act, which makes up to $2 million available for every school district in the state to improve its technology and security infrastructure. The district has been allocated $1,003,429 to make improvements to district computer server infrastructure; purchase new computers, projectors, security cameras; and to install a new security booth at the entrance of the high school parking lot.

The district laid out its plans at an Oct. 23 board meeting, where Peter Esposito, the director of technical services, said the district plans to replace several pieces of data storage equipment to maximize storage capability in switch closets for $430,000. The district also plans to replace all district computers, 450 in all, last upgraded in 2013, with more modern machines for $425,000. The district will replace its 120, 10-year-old classroom projectors with new LCD projectors for $65,000 and add additional security cameras for $18,000.

“It’s been on my desk for the last three years, so it would be good to move forward with this,” Esposito said.

A prefabricated visitors booth for the high school parking lot will be installed for $65,000. While Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district is still working out the final plans for the booth, it could possibly be located along the high school driveway where the road forks to the administration entrance and to the main parking lot. The booth could include a guard-operated gate so school officials can monitor who is entering the high school grounds, even if they are going to use the trails to the south of the school or the North Shore Public Library.

“The way we envision it is it will help somebody get to the high school, get to the library or make the left to come up to administrative offices,” Poole said.

The final version of the plan will be submitted to New York State by the end of November, but Poole said the committee that reviews the plan has been taking about one year on average to approve those documents. He said he expects the visitors booth to be installed sometime after the district revitalizes the high school parking lot over the summer as part of a 2015 capital bond referendum, but that those plans will be changed to allow for the new booth.

At prior board meetings residents have expressed frustration about new speed bumps installed on the driveway to the high school, saying they’re so hard and short that it forces most cars to slowly roll over them. Residents have said the slowdown has increased traffic going into the school, especially in early mornings, but the superintendent said the speed bumps are working as intended to slow down traffic to 15 mph or less. He added the school has had no problem getting all students in class by first period, though officials will be reviewing the safety protocols for the guard booth as the district develops plans for the new parking lot, with that stage of the bond project going out to bid in January.

At the October meeting, board President Michael Lewis asked if the computers the school would be buying would have to be replaced in another eight years. Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said there was no way to tell where technology would go in that amount of time.

“I can promise you if you do this in another eight years you will have the same budget,” Meinster said. “I don’t know where we’re going to be in the next eight years technology wise — what we’re going to be using later on.”

Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the school could pay for future technology through capital reserve funds.

The investment plan is available to view on the district’s website, and district officials are currently asking for feedback on the proposal. The board will vote on the finalized version of the plan at its Nov. 27 board 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.

By Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River school district is asking students and staff to become the eyes and ears of the school with the introduction of the anonymous Report It app as part of the district’s increasing focus on school security.

Report It app draft of anonymous report questions.

“Last fall we started to look at different ways that students could report any safety or security issues they may have where they weren’t comfortable reporting in a regular venue,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know or to give us some advance notice of something that may be emerging.”

The Report It app allows students, teachers, staff or community members who access the website or download the app to anonymously report on any activity they think is suspicious to the school, whether its security or drugs related or even involving social media and cyberbullying.

Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment said at an April 18 board of education meeting each of the four district principals and administration will receive the tips and are responsible for checking up on any reports. The information in the report will then be monitored by the district main office.

“There are protocols they have to do involving investigating any information that is receive — all the principals will always follow the standard protocol, and part of that protocol is consulting with district administration,” Meinster said at the meeting.

The reports are monitored during regular school hours.

The app has been active in the district for approximately a month, but Poole said the district has yet to see any reports that have required action. Though Poole admitted that since reporting is anonymous there is potential for false reports, he believes students and staff understand the purpose and gravity of what this app means for the school.

“This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know is emerging to give us some advance notice.”

— Gerard Poole

“We had a high school assembly where we were telling students how to use the app and what it was for, and I think the students took it very seriously as an option for them,” Poole said. “We haven’t had any false reports yet, and while there is potential for false reports it wasn’t enough of a concern for us not to implement it.”

Poole said that the school is not liable if they do not take action on any specific report.

The app is part of the district’s See It, Say It, Report It campaign to get students and staff active in being mindful of school safety. The app joins other security features that the district has implemented this year such as a visitor management system in all district buildings that scans licenses and prints out a tag with a person’s destination and photo. The district has also hired two more security guards for large gatherings as well arrival and dismissal during the school day.

The district is planning to implement more security features over the summer. Poole said the goal is for students to come back next year to new security vestibules and a student ID swipe-in system at the high school and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The security features will be built with funds from the ongoing bond project.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture.”

— Anthony Lavalle

Anthony Lavalle, executive director of Sayville-based Report It Inc., said that the app was designed for use in today’s technological age.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture,” Lavalle said. “Even today if you think about it, a school shooting in Texas, school shooting in Florida, the concept is that students potentially know about these types of things, but they do not communicate them because of fear of some sort of retribution or retaliation.”

After the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, shooting, Lavalle said he’s seen a lot more interest from local schools in Report It as a means of enhancing security. A number of school districts on Long Island, including Half Hollow Hills, Plainedge, Lynbrook, Port Washington and Malverne have also signed on to using the app.

The application is web-based, but there is also an option for users to download it to their phone. Each school building’s webpage has a link that sends it to that specific building’s Report It page.

If logging into the app from the website, users will have to input five digits for reporting for Shoreham-Wading River schools. The code starts with “SWR,” with the last two letters being the school the user is sending it to, which are “HS” for the high school, “MS” for Albert G. Prodell Middle School, “MA” for Miller Avenue Elementary and “WR” for Wading River Elementary School.

School officials urge that if the report is an emergency, to immediately call 911 or contact emergency services.

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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.

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. 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.”

Parents also speak of concerns of notification of recent school threat

Shoreham-Wading River High School is located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham. File photo by Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education meeting March 6, 11th grader Sarah Acerra took to the podium and spoke up in light of the recent Florida tragedy.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Sarah Acerra took to the podium during a recent board of education meeting to voice her concerns over school safety. Photo by Kevin Redding

“What is being done to make us students feel more safe?” Acerra asked board members.

The junior said she recalled a threat made by a student last year — Thursday, March 16, 2017 — via text message that “something might occur” at the high school. The student who sent the text was quickly identified and dealt with by the district and plans were put in place for locker and school bag searches the following school day. But Acerra, who said many of her peers stayed home upon hearing about the threat, did not feel safe when she arrived back at the high school the next day.

“I walked into school a little before 7 that morning — I remember it perfectly because nobody checked my bag and none of my friends’ bags were checked either,” she said. “So the rest of the day was very uneasy for all of us because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Even though the kid had been caught, there was no guarantee that there wasn’t anybody else involved with the threat.”

Another high school junior, Kathleen Loscalzo, spoke of her anxiety when it comes to who is able to enter the buildings. Loscalzo said she saw a former student, who moved to another state in seventh grade, in one of her classes this year. When asked if she recently moved back to Shoreham, the former student said, “No, I was visiting and they just let me in.”

“If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

— Kathleen Loscalzo

Loscalzo raised concerns over the student’s identification cards, which she said are not especially needed for anything except buying lunch in the cafeteria.

“I know many other schools have IDs they have to wear like a lanyard,” Loscalzo said. “If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

On the subject of social media threats, Jennifer Donnelly, a mother of a ninth-grader in the district, addressed a vague email sent out to parents by Poole on March 4 regarding a threat, which, according to the letter, was “investigated with the support of law enforcement who deemed the threat to not be criminal” and appropriate disciplinary actions were made.

“A lot of people, myself included, were really uncomfortable sending my kids to school after that,” Donnelly said asking for more clarification in these emergency emails. “There was nothing about who this threat was from, what the threat was, what the level of the threat was, what was done … And, with security being put in place, I feel like, ‘Well, what’s going to happen immediately tomorrow if someone comes through the door?’”

Superintendent Gerard Poole thanked both students and Donnelly for weighing in and assured them that the district has been reviewing and working toward strengthening its security and safety measures since before the Parkland, Florida shooting.

Shoreham-Wading River high school junior Kathleen Loscalzo said a former student was able to enter the building and visit a class of hers without being asked who she was upon entering the highs school. Photo by Kevin Redding

Frequent evacuation, lockdown and lockout drills currently take place throughout the year, and a combined $2 million investment over the past few has included security hardware additions and infrastructure improvements, like burglar alarm systems, enhanced video monitoring, elementary vestibules and School Active Violence Emergency (SAVE) hotlines installed in each building. Poole outlined to parents and students in attendance future projects to beef up security. These include:

  • Adding security guards in the high school; the district’s security supervisor said of arming them, “I think there’s a long laundry list of items that should be discussed in detail surrounding that — a legal piece, a training piece, a tactical piece. I know there’s an urgency to do something, but there’s a lot that needs to be done first.”
  • The construction of a high school vestibule to begin this spring with projected completion in summer 2020; the middle school vestibule will be completed this summer.
  • The installation of a Raptor Visitor Management System in all buildings this spring, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases.
  • The implementation of ballistic security film designed to prevent glass from shattering on impact and delay an intruder’s entry.
  • The consideration of metal detectors in the schools.

The district also recently completed a security audit and developed a “multi-pronged plan” for strong enhancement and has in place a recently-hired security consultant firm — Covert Operations — to enhance its plans, drills and overall preparedness in an emergency situation. The firm regularly reviews and improves security and safety measures.

“We are certainly in a strong position to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors,” Poole said.

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.

District administrators to review security plans March 13; have plans to install more cameras

Huntington High School. File photo.

With Florida’s school shooting still in recent memory, Huntington school officials are taking the tragedy as a reminder to review their own security plans.

Parents were given a thorough rundown of Huntington Union Free School District’s plans to keep its nearly 4,600 students safe and planned security upgrades at the Feb. 26 board of education meeting.

“Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true,” Superintendent James Polansky said. “I believe in this district we are as actively thinking what can and may happen as any other district out there. You have to be as many steps ahead as any district can be.”

Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true.”
—James Polansky

Kathleen Acker, Huntington’s assistant superintendent for finances and management services, walked parents through the district’s general safety plans, which can be found online, in addition to informing them that a districtwide plan and highly-detailed building specific plans exist and are filed with state and local law enforcement.

“The plans are very dynamic and always change in response,” Acker said. “We will be doing a review on March 13 to see how comprehensive it is, but there’s always room to add a bit more.”

School officials have used part of the district’s $1.4 million Smart Schools Bond Act funds from the state to upgrade existing security cameras at the high school and install additional ones districtwide this year, according to Acker. She said the district has also recently partnered with Intralogic Solutions, a security technology provider, to pilot a new safety system. The Alert Domain Awareness System focuses security cameras on fire alarms to provide a view of who pulled the trigger, a method which was employed by the Parkland shooting suspect, to determine if it’s a credible alarm.

The assistant superintendent said the district will spend approximately $100,000 to replace old doors at two elementary schools with doors that can be locked from the inside. It’s a process referred to as door hardening, according to Polansky, and it’s recommended classroom doors are locked at all times.

“Just a locked door serves as a deterrent,” he said. “If there’s a threat, they’ll keep moving.”

Huntington school district has hired one additional security guard, currently in training, and plans to review its deployment of guards throughout the district. The state has approved the district’s plans to construct a security vestibule at Jefferson Elementary School this summer, according to Acker. School officials are also waiting for state approval to build similar booths at Nathaniel Woodhull School and Southdown Primary School.

“If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.” 
— James Polansky

Last year, each building had video monitors installed at every greeter station so staff members could see visitors looking to gain entrance. Visitors are required to show photo identification.

The superintendent said he believes a key piece of ensuring student safety is preventative measures which have included anti-bullying programs and adding support staff — a social worker, a psychologist and more guidance counselors.

“They are not teaching kids in the classroom, but the services are indispensable,” Polansky said.

The Huntington superintendent said he had a meeting scheduled with 10 other school administrators across Huntington and Smithtown townships Feb. 27 to discuss the best ways to communicate and share security strategies in light of the recent shooting.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Polansky said. “If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.” 

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks about new police cameras at each of the seven precincts during a press conference in Greenlawn. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Be careful what actions you take, because the police are watching.

Suffolk County Police Department officials announced the implementation of 12 overt surveillance cameras throughout the county July 10, in an effort to deter crime.

The pilot program began in October 2016 with the implementation of a single camera in both the 1st and 2nd precincts. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that cameras were installed in the five other precincts early June.

Two of these cameras were positioned in Huntington Town, with one displayed on top of a telephone pole outside a small shopping center at the corner of Rockne Street and Broadway in Greenlawn.

“We want people to know about it.” Sini said of the camera program. “Local government is doing everything in their power to increase the quality of life in our communities.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that the town is dealing with the impact of several recent crimes, specifically recent shootings in Greenlawn that are “all too fresh in our minds.”

“These incidents of crime take away the feeling of safety,” Spencer said. “We will not tolerate violence in our community. These cameras put criminals on notice to say, ‘Don’t come here.’”

The cameras are full color and full motion, and can be accessed remotely through any officer or SCPD official that has access to Wi-Fi. The camera equipment was purchased for about $130,000 in a program funded by SCPD asset forfeiture dollars. However, the plan for a new real-time crime center, part of which will be to monitor the overt security cameras, will be created using SCPD’s normal operating budget.

The cameras are additions to a surveillance system that includes a number of license-plate readers along intersections and hidden cameras placed in areas such as local public parks.

“While the discreet cameras catch crime, the overt cameras do the same but they deter crime as well,” Sini said.

SCPD officials said that depending on community feedback, the cameras could be moved into different positions or to different areas.

On the topic of privacy, Sini responded that people should not expect privacy in a public space.

“The message we want to send is think twice before doing something illegal — think twice before doing something that demotes the quality of life for our residents, because we are watching,” Sini said.

Several nearby residents were happy to have the new camera system in their community.

“It’s a blessing,” said Greenlawn resident Earline Robinson about the implementation of the camera. She said she was concerned about crime, including gang activity, in the area and especially those of several shootings that happened in the community just in the past month.

President of Greenlawn Civic Association, Dick Holmes, said he had high expectations for the cameras and the police department.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “We’ll see what it does and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

The cameras are meant to be hung from telephone poles and are colored bright white and wrapped with a blue stripe that reads “police.” The camera positioned outside the shopping center in Greenlawn looks down at a strip that has been the site of a number of crimes, including several robberies.

One Stop Deli owner Mohammad Afzaal said that in the nine years he’s owned his store, it had been raided four times. Once, robbers broke into the safe behind the counter, and several times he had walked in to find the store in disarray. From those robberies, he estimates he lost about $11,000.

“Sometimes my camera doesn’t work,” Afzaal said, pointing to the camera hanging in the corner of his store. “But the camera out there, it will work.”

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