As time passes following the December 14 Sandy Hook School massacre of 20 children and six adults, town police officials are assessing the implications of the event in terms of future police staffing and the security levels that will be required at local schools.
They also are considering the prospect of police activity returning to normal, as adaptation to new conditions occurs.
The Police Commission and police command staff members discussed the many ramifications of the 12/14 incident at a March 5 session.
Police Chief Michael Kehoe reported that police staffing requirements since the incident have resulted in the police department well exceeding its normal police overtime spending.
Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico noted that before 12/14, town police typically had monthly overtime spending in the range of $9,000 to $12,000.
However, police overtime levels were about $75,000 in January and about $67,000 in February, he noted.
In the incident’s aftermath, there has been a “dramatic effect” on the overtime accounts, Mr Mangiafico said.
Chief Kehoe noted that some of the police’s December overtime after the Sandy Hook shootings was reflected in the $75,000 figure for January.
Chief Kehoe said that a charitable group has approached town police in seeking to aid those officers who need short-term financial help in the aftermath of 12/14, streamlining its application process for such funding.
Also, the Newtown Police Union has sought to aid officers in financial need, he said.
To financially aid town police officers who are suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following their participation in the 12/14 investigation, the town and the police union have approved new labor contract wording under the terms of the “short-term disability” section of the police work pact, specifying pay provisions for officers who are off work due to PTSD.
The 12/14 incident has resulted in a variable number of town police officers having been being intermittently off work due to the lingering effects of PTSD.
On March 5, Chief Kehoe told Police Commission members that two officers were off work that day and that he expected one of them to return to work soon.
At the February 5 Police Commission session, Chief Kehoe said that five officers were off work due to PTSD.
More than a dozen town police officers quickly responded to the school crime scene on December 14.
PTSD is severe anxiety disorder that may occur after a person is exposed to an event that causes psychological trauma.
Chief Kehoe described to Police Commission members a range of staffing options that First Selectman Pat Llodra proposed earlier this week to address the need for added security in the local schools.
Those security staffing options include: placing additional school resource officers in the schools; creating a new police positions known as “school security officers,” who would be sworn police officers working in the schools during the school year; hiring conventional new police officers to work in the schools; and hiring armed security guards to work in the schools.
Mr Mangiafico noted that the Board of Education has hired 12 new unarmed security guards to work for the school system.
Chief Kehoe said that police officials are moving forward in adapting to the law enforcement climate following 12/14.
There are many aspects to that process, and security planning will be incremental in the coming months, he said.
“We’re trying to return to ‘normal,’” he said, adding “but we’re still seeing fallout.”
Police plan to return to a normal level of traffic law enforcement, according to the police chief, but it is unclear when that will occur. “I’d like to give it a couple of months…The dust is settling,” he said.
Within a couple of months, police officials will develop a clearer picture in terms of returning to a more normal state of affairs, he said.
Mr Mangiafico noted that before 12/14, town police had conducted about 950 “traffic stops” of motorists per month, but after the incident, that number dropped to about 25 traffic stops per month.
Chief Kehoe observed, “We have to let the dust settle a little bit to find our ‘new normal.’”
The town police department currently has 45 sworn officers. It formerly had 47 officers, but that number has decreased to 45 officers by attrition.
Mr Mangiafico noted that the Police Commission has recommended that the town hire 11 new police officers and one civilian police records department employee, plus buy four new police cars for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Those proposals would represent $1,228,000 in spending, he said.
The chairman said he expects that town officials would endorse hiring at least four new police officers of the 11 officers requested.
Mr Mangiafico noted the Sandy Hook School incident has resulted in a “unique” budget proposal from the Police Commission.
Also, it will the first time that the town votes on a bifurcated budget proposal under which voters will act on the town government and the school system budget proposals separately, he said.
The public apparently wants heightened school security, but “There is not an open-ended checkbook,” he added.