The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Retired parole officers may become armed school guards

- By Bill Cummings

HARTFORD – An effort is brewing at the state Capitol to bolster school security in Connecticu­t by allowing retired parole officers to work as armed guards.

But it’s not clear if a shortage in applicants for armed security jobs is fueling the initiative or if it’s simply the result of requests from parole officers who want to seek the jobs. Several bill sponsors said they hope public hearings will reveal whether districts need a larger applicant pool.

“We are looking to hear from districts to see if there is a shortage,” said state Rep. Carol Hall, DEnfield, who filed a bill allowing parole officers to serve as an armed school guard after several parole officers inquired about applying for school security jobs.

“I have not heard there is (an applicant shortage) but I’m one little, tiny district,” Hall added.

Other school securityre­lated bills proposed by Hall seek to expand how security grant money is used and reinforce the mandate that all schools develop a security plan.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat and vice chairwoman of the public safety and security committee, and state Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, have also submitted bills that would open armed security positions to parole officers.

Osten’s bill amends current state law that now limits armed school security guards to active or retired police officers by allowing parole officers with certain firearms training to be hired as well. Carney’s bill is less specific at this point but would accomplish the same goal.

Parole officers are empowered to carry a gun and receive certain levels of firearm training. How

ever, they do not take the active shooter training police officers must complete.

Carney said he would insist that parole officers receive active shooter training. “I would hope that, should this legislatio­n move forward, there would be language to stipulate that anyone who is a security officer in a school —ar med or not — would have to go through active shooter training,” he said.

Carney added parole officers receive training through the Connecticu­t Police Officer Safety Training Council, the same agency that issues law enforcemen­t the license to be a police officer.

“Including retired parole officers would create a larger pool of highly qualified and trained people who could also be considered, alongside retired police officers, for these positions,” Carney said.

A new push

Since 20 children and six adults were killed in 2012 during the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the state has

poured $66 million worth of security grants into 185 schools to bolster security and keep students safe.

Individual school districts have spent millions of additional dollars — no one knows exactly how much — on security upgrades.

A recent survey by the Connecticu­t Associatio­n of Public School Superinten­dents found that 66 percent of the 92 districts that responded said they had school security or resource officers. About 11 percent said some officers were armed.

The latest figures from the state DESPP show that of the 221 public schools eligible for security funding during the 2021-22 school year, 203 submitted security plans by the Nov. 1 deadline and 166 submitted lock down drill logs, meaning they have met the state mandate to receive funding.

But 16 districts have refused to comply with that mandate and file security plans or logs with the state. Those who refuse to comply cannot receive school security funding administer­ed by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

The identity of the noncomplia­nt districts is being withheld by state officials,

who cite security concerns over making their identity known.

Hall said one of her proposed bills is intended to ensure that all schools develop a security plan – including the 16 holdouts.

“I think it should be tied to ECS funding,” Hall said, referring to the primary mechanism to send state funding to local school districts. “You lose it if you don’t comply with that statute,” she said.

Hall said she doesn’t understand why the 16 districts are not identified.

“I don’t understand why you can’t get a list,” Hall said, referring to the refusal to name the districts. “They are endangerin­g their students and staff by not having one. That’s beyond absurd.”

Hall also submitted a bill that would allow school districts to use school security infrastruc­ture grants to hire armed officers. The money is now allocated towards security hardware, such as cameras, locks and other physical improvemen­ts.

“The thought was that school security grant funds that are used to harden school buildings could utilize them for security,” Hall said. “The reality of things is when you start cutting [spending]

security is almost the first thing to be shaved.”

Osten could not be reached for comment about her bill.

While some lawmakers are interested in boosting armed security at schools, not everyone agrees that armed policing schools is the best idea. In a 2020 paper published by The Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticu­t, Chelsea Connery, a doctoral student, said armed officers impede education.

“The research shows that policing in schools undercuts the developmen­t of a healthy, just, nurturing environmen­t, especially for students of color,” Connery wrote.

“Evidence-based alternativ­es to school policing are grounded in child developmen­t, relationsh­ipbuilding, and justice that address safety concerns in such a way that protects the well-being, dignity, and human rights of all students, families, and school personnel,” she noted.

Connery said in 1975, only one percent of schools nationally reported having police officers on site, but by 2018, approximat­ely 58 percent of schools had at least one sworn law enforcemen­t official present during the school week.

 ?? Ned Gerard / Hearst CT Media ?? Connecticu­t Lawmakers have submitted proposals that would allow for retired parole officers to become armed security guards at local schools in the state.
Ned Gerard / Hearst CT Media Connecticu­t Lawmakers have submitted proposals that would allow for retired parole officers to become armed security guards at local schools in the state.

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