The Bedford Central School District has formally asked for full-time police protection at each of its five elementary schools and the Fox Lane campus.
In a letter to the district’s communities—Bedford, Mount Kisco and Pound Ridge—School Superintendent Jere Hochman asked for either an all-day police officer and car or, if that’s not possible, an unarmed security supervisor. The increased security would remain in place through June while officials examine school safety in a new, post-Newtown light.
A lone gunman’s slaughter of 20 children—most of them first-graders, along with six educators—at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month provoked not only national outrage but also widespread worry whether any school can guarantee its students’ safety. On Tuesday, those fears and their emotional fallout—manifest in recent weeks at numerous area school board meetings—got a public airing at a Bedford town board meeting, hearing Hochman’s letter and the pleas of several parents.
Bedford officials, while sharing the parents’ safety concerns, called school security a district matter and questioned, in any case, the ultimate effectiveness of a single sentry standing classroom watch.
But Bedford Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said that meeting Hochman’s request would cost a “staggering amount” that was, in her view, “a district expense” anyway.
Bedford Police Chief William Hayes estimated the price tag at about $1 million a year to install police officers just in Bedford’s four public schools. Moreover, he noted, private schools within the Bedford CSD as well as the town’s other school district, Katonah-Lewisboro, could request similar protection, potentially raising the number under patrol to 29.
Hayes, who specialized in school-security issues as he rose in the ranks in the aftermath of Colorado’s 1999 Columbine tragedy, sees a police officer in the school as an expensive way to instill a perhaps-unwarranted sense of security. “Most school shootings,” he told the town board Tuesday, “are stopped by means other than law-enforcement intervention.” At Columbine, for example, 12 students died despite the presence of a full-time, armed school resource officer.
Reached for comment on Wednesday, Mount Kisco Mayor Michael Cindrich acknowledged the letter and said that he talked with Hochman after getting it. He said that he did not have details on how the request would be funded, and declined to discuss specifics on a possible deployment, citing the fact that it is related to security.
Cindrich, who is a retired Mamaroneck town police lieutenant and worked on its school district's security, felt that the two schools in the village, Mount Kisco Elementary School and the Hillside program, are secure.
Pound Ridge Supervisor Gary Warshauer could not be reached for his reaction to Hochman’s request.
In addressing the town board, parents insisted that placing a police officer in front of a school has a deterrent effect. And perhaps as importantly, they added, the absence of an officer could invite some would-be gunman to target an unprotected schoolhouse here rather than confront a security presence elsewhere.
“I think the psychopaths who would do harm to our children are not unilaterally unintelligent,” said Jeff Szymanski, the father of a Bedford Village Elementary School student. “While they have their issues, they are very smart about the way they do this.” Since a terrorist will look to attack where he sees the greatest likelihood of success, he said, “your easiest target is one without protection. . . . The deterrent thing, I think, is really important.”
John Sauro of Pound Ridge, who is circulating a petition calling for police patrols, disputed the town’s lack of responsibility for providing school security, noting that police officers are on hand for large gatherings like parades and other celebrations and observances.
He reminded board members that “you have a police presence wherever there’s a large congregation of citizens. That is part of the town’s responsibility.” Accordingly, he said, “it’s the town’s responsibility to keep these [school] children safe, because they are not second-class citizens. They deserve the same exact protection that everyone in the town gets.”
Sauro also criticized what he called lax school security, saying it was “astonishing to me how I could walk in and out of these schools without being approached by anybody.”
Bedford Councilman Francis T. Corcoran agreed. “There are lots of other things they could do right this second [to beef up security],” he said. For all the talk of adopting stringent new security measures, including the addition of police officers, bulletproof glass and single points of entry, Corcoran said, fundamental precautions are going unheeded. He cited, for example, doors that are left unlocked and simple safety protocols that are not being followed. “We need to look harder, right now, at what we’re doing in the schools,” he said.
Hochman, in his letter, said his school safety committee is “looking at what can be done . . . inside schools, at school entrances, on the perimeter of the schools and on the campus.”
Whatever the committee concludes, anxious parents are waiting for assurances, the town hall meeting made clear. “I feel like our kids are sitting ducks,” Szymanski said.
Editor's note: We have changed the headline to indicate that a police presence is desired at—but not inside—district schools. With the exception of the district's School Resource Officer (a uniformed, armed police officer), additional officers are requested to patrol campus grounds.