Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Starts Its Work

HARTFORD — At its initial meeting on Thursday, January 24, Governor Dannel P. Malloy told the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission that the panel is “important and historic.”

The governor said that the commission’s work in reviewing the tragic December 14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School is intended to make children and the state itself a safer place.

“The entire country was shaken to its core,” Gov Malloy said.

The governor recently appointed the 16-member advisory panel of experts and legislators to study and make recommendations on how school safety can be improved, how mental health services can be enhanced, and how gun violence can be controlled.

Gov Malloy said that responsible law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms, but not at the expense of public safety.

“Shootings like this are becoming an all-too-common occurrence in our country,” he said.

With the proper treatment, almost all mental health problems can be overcome, he told the panel.

Schools need to be safe and welcoming places, he said, adding that such crimes need to be prevented in any type of public place where they might occur.

The governor asked that the panel submit an interim report with recommendations for legislative action. The General Assembly’s current session will conclude in June.

Gov Malloy added that beyond interim recommendations, the panel’s thoroughness is an important aspect of its work.

Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedenksy III, who is a Newtown resident, updated commission members on the status of the state police investigation into the 12/14 incident.

Mr Sedensky explained that he has obtained court approval to temporarily maintain the sealed status of certain court documents pertaining to the investigation in order to prevent those documents’ contents from being publicly disclosed. Disclosing such documents now could jeopardize the criminal investigation, he said.

Mr Sedensky said he expects that it would be “several months” before the investigation is completed, perhaps as early as June.

Following his review of the investigation, he would issue a public report on it, Mr Sedensky said.

If any prosecution should arise from the investigation, such a prosecution would take precedence over the issuance of a report, he said. However, no such prosecution is yet apparent, he said.


Columbine Parallel

At the January 24 session, former Colorado governor Bill Ritter reviewed for commission members how the State of Colorado reacted to the Columbine High School shooting incident in April 1999.

At the time of the Columbine massacre, Mr Ritter was the district attorney for Denver and became a member of the Columbine Review Commission, which conducted a review of the tragedy for then-Colorado Governor Bill Owens. Mr Ritter was elected governor of Colorado in 2007 and served until 2011.

The Columbine panel produced a 139-page report based on its study.

Although there are many differences between the Columbine and Sandy Hook incidents, there are some similarities, Mr Ritter said.

Mr Ritter described the Sandy Hook incident as a form of “domestic terrorism.” The nation wants to know why such tragic incidents continue to occur, he stressed.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission will be speaking to the people of the whole country in its upcoming report, Mr Ritter said.

“Your work actually can make a difference” and result in lives being saved in the future, he said. The recommendations of the Columbine Review Commission have been implemented, he noted.

The magnitude of the Sandy Hook incident has created a ripple effect throughout Newtown, the state, and the nation, Mr Ritter said.

The grieving period following the incident can prove to be an “extremely long-term process,” he noted. Even “tough” people who deal with intense situations on a recurring basis, such as law enforcement personnel, can be emotionally aided through appropriate interventions, he said.

In response to a question from commission member Ron Chivinski, who is a teacher at Newtown Middle School, Mr Ritter said that while there may be places within schools where the placement of surveillance devices or metal detectors is appropriate, a broader goal is to establish a “culture of safety” in the schools.

Commission member Dr Harold Schwartz, who is the psychiatrist-in-chief at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, asked Mr Ritter for some recommendations on improving school safety.

Mr Ritter observed that in the Columbine incident there had been some “red flags” that should have alerted people about the mental health problems exhibited by the two perpetrators.

Following the Columbine report, school officials there created an anonymous tip mechanism to alert them about potential problematic people and also created a bullying prevention program in the schools.

Mr Ritter told commission members they should do all that they can to be fully informed about the subject they are studying and take sufficient time to prepare their report.

Also, via a video link, Professor Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia explained the work of the Virginia Tech Review Panel following the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy in 2007.

Prof Bonnie said he expects that the study of the Sandy Hook incident will expose weaknesses that should be addressed to prevent such incidents from occurring again.

Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, who is chairman of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission , said he wants the panel to meet again soon to examine certain basic aspects of the Sandy Hook incident, including the trauma response and school building security.

Commission members plan to formulate a meeting schedule for their work.

The commission’s work is to review current policy and make specific recommendations in the areas of public safety, with particular attention paid to school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention.

People who want to submit written testimony to the commission may do so by accessing the panel’s website at www.ct.gov/SHAC.

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