Farmington Police Chief Paul Melanson and school and youth officers Joanna Blumetti and Stan Lada joined the Farmington Board of Education Monday night to discuss the school district’s safety and security policies in the wake of the Newtown shootings and going forward.
The key, according to Superintendent Kathleen Greider, is the collaborative relationship the district has with the town’s police department. And that, she said, is nothing new.
“Since minutes after the tragedy occurred, we were in constant communication but really that started years before… This is not something because of the tragedy we all of a sudden realized we need to do something,” Melanson said. “Ever since Columbine in ’99, police departments and schools have had a different approach to safety.”
Melanson said his department is constantly drilling for “active shooter events” both in the schools and in other places, like the mall.
The first thing police try to determine in such incidents is motivation, which, if they can identify a motive, they try to address it, Melanson said. But according to FBI data, in 40 percent of cases, no clear motive is established.
He gave statistics from FBI active shooter incidents, saying 17 percent of active shooter incidents occur in academic settings, 21 percent in the workplace, 14 percent in domestic situations. Seven percent are cases of academic retaliation, he said, like at Virginia Tech.
In light of that, Melanson said, the district and the police department have prepared in several ways. They have both continually drilled how to respond in such cases and worked on prevention.
District safety and security measures are updated regularly, Greider said and the district engaged in an outside review a few years ago which led to implementation of the buzzer system, cameras in entryways, established protocol for visitors and the regular emergency drills.
Since the Dec. 14 Newtown shootings, the district has added new measures, too, only some of which have been communicated to parents.
A new review of all the district’s safety and security measures by an outside company has been initiated, with which policies will likely be updated again.
But since the majority of school shooters are current or former students, Melanson said, it is important for police and school administrators to not share everything about the security measures that are or are not in place.
"We're working to figure out the best way to educate our children and keep them safe but at the same time, there are people out there figuring out how to harm them. Some things we have to be careful of what we tell," Melanson said, warning that to divulge all the security measures would give potential shooters "a blueprint."
Melanson also said that since most school shooters are current or former students, police regularly work with the district to identify kids who may be at risk. This is done in working with teachers and school staff and through Officer Joanna Blumetti, the school resource officer at Farmington High School and Officer Stanley Lada, who works in the other schools.
Every officer regularly rotates through the schools’ emergency drills, Melanson said, so they can become familiar with the schools and what goes on at lockdown.
“Prevention is a big piece,” Melanson concluded. “Once things start, really it’s too late. Ever since 1999, we have been preparing to respond with equipment, training and review but really, the key is prevention.”
Board Chairman Mary Grace Reed summarized from the board’s side.
“The takeaway is that there is a collaboration between the police department and the Farmington Public Schools that is absolutely seamless. And there is a desire on behalf of the police department and the schools to do a deep analysis of the facts and reach out to other law enforcement agencies.”
In public comment, Joan Valenti, a Union School parent, said she is concerned about a lack of enforcement of the recently added security measures, such as parents coming in late to an assembly and not being required to sign in at the office.
West District mom Liz Fitzsimmons said she hoped the district would not respond rashly to the Newtown shootings, but that it would prepare for the things that happen every day and could put children in danger.
“As we’ve learned since Dec. 14 there are a lot of guns in this world, especially in Farmington and there are a lot of bad people… who want to do bad things with guns. As the chief said, we can’t stop those things from happening and we have to be able to react…” Fitzsimmons said.
“We have to remember that schools are also workplaces for people who may have domestic things going on in their homes… what if their spouse comes to the school and has a violent episode with someone in school and my child is caught in between… what if a cafeteria worker has an ex-spouse who is angry with them and wants to abduct their child and my child is caught in that incident… those things need to be looked at because those things happen all the time.”
Officer Blumetti responded to her, saying that she was very proud to work in Farmington because the department had always worked hard to prepare and responds well to those situations every day.
“Those things do happen every day here in town… and we do a great job. We react to those things and have as long as I’ve been an officer. We didn’t have to wait for a tragedy to happen to have plans in place,” Blumetti said.
She also said an emergency drill that day at FHS – planned months in advance - had gone very well.