Contributed By Micah Welintukonis, Candidate for Governor of Connecticut
School Safety Proposal
This proposal was put together with the help of and suggestions made by everyday people, democrats, republicans, teachers, parents, police officers, and concerned citizens alike.
It has become blatantly clear with the number of mass shootings, specifically in schools, that society’s value for human life has diminished. Connecticut’s leaders have remained largely silent while post-Sandy Hook promised and needed mental health care has been cut from the budget. Clearly, something more needs to be done to protect our children and schools.
As a father, I fully admit that deep inside of me I do fear an attack at my children’s schools. I could not even imagine the amount of guilt and remorse I would feel if something happened while they were there. And yes, I hate to admit it, but I must be honest—we are already acutely aware our state is not immune to these attacks.
Enough is enough. We must set aside feelings and look at reality. We must recognize that what we need trumps what we want. The truth is that despite Connecticut’s praised strict gun laws and many gun buy-back programs, now a teenager can go to Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, or many other areas to get illegal guns, ammunition, and magazines, should they so choose. Similarly, heroin is illegal and destroys many lives, but it is still quite easy to get. Outlawing guns entirely will not end their use or existence.
We are once again seeing the horrific deaths of innocent children. We are reminded of how a sick and twisted person can devise a plan and strike terror, destroying innocent lives forever. This should far outweigh any other fears in my following proposal, as I have incorporated a number of effective safety measures. I am not here to play to a political party’s point of view, and I am certainly not here to promote the NRA, nor an anti-gun group. I am here as a retired member of the military, a husband, a father, and a candidate for governor, who wants to carry out an honest, risk-mitigating solution.
School Safety Solutions
The military teaches that the battlefield has at least five dimensions; winning in the field requires responsible achievement and a grasp of all dimensions. Today’s multi-dimensional battle space is our schools, and keeping our children safe is our mission; the main goal is to allow that our kids are able to learn without living in fear. Taking military doctrine, and properly developing and applying these concepts to civilian life, will enable us to safeguard our children and meet our full potential. This does not mean having National Guardsmen with automatic weapons standing guard at the doors of our schools. I firmly believe that to find a solution that ensures our children’s safety we need to use the military decision-making process: name the mission, conduct a mission analysis, develop courses of action, analyze courses of action, compare courses of action, approve a course of action, and order or produce a new plan or law.
A unified and collaborative strategy to integrate and combine resources for school operations is needed, including using parents, law enforcement, elected officials, experts, former criminals, and lessons learned to make safe educational environments where students can reach their graduation goals. We must make a significant investment in a range of all our capabilities, and not just one. Full-dimensional protection includes precision engagement, which allows for shaping the environment to flow both effectively and efficiently; focused logistics, which make sure that our facilities have the right tools at the right place and at the most needed time; and operational security, which ensures that key information that could be useful cannot be obtained by threats. Applying these tools with the intent of protecting our kids so they may be capable of achieving in this state of conflict is key to reform, but the following proposal is only a piece of a larger puzzle.
There have been seven intentional firearm attacks on school property during school hours this year in the U.S., including Parkland on Valentine’s Day . This is today’s sad and tragic America. As if the numerous terrorist acts in our country, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the Charleston church shootings, the Pulse nightclub attack, both the St. Cloud, Minnesota and University of California stabbings, and the truck attack on a bike path in New York City are not enough, we now must worry what might happen in buildings that are truly supposed to be safe havens for our children. Currently, there is nothing effective in place to stop any terrorist from focusing their attention on a school. A set of morals and ethics, or the fact that murder and attempted murder are against the law, is hardly enough to deter such actions in someone hell-bent on executing their heinous plan.
Non-Partisan Study Group
We can no longer protect our children by using inferior technology or outdated thinking. Temporary measures need to be put into place immediately. A completely non-partisan group is needed to study school shooters, details of prior shootings, and the factors, causes, and potential solutions to such horrid crimes. We need to find where our weaknesses lie and strengthen those elements. Emotionally driven measures intended to make people feel good do nothing but give a false sense of security. After the group reports their findings we could start real, data-driven solutions. The study group should continue to explore the effects of any legislation or measures put in place related to school safety, and recommend adjustments. Until then our schools are being set up for failure. Unfortunately, our leaders seem to be fighting for the next election only, with outdated political party doctrines and tactics. It is time to collectively come together with foresight and predictably, honestly saying that although the likelihood is low, another school shooting is going to happen somewhere at some point.
Florida’s Valentine’s Day shooter Nikolas Cruz was firing through glass windows. Adam Lanza shot through glass doors at Sandy Hook. Cameras on locked glass doors do nothing more than show what is going on to someone who may be viewing a tv monitor and/or to record the tragedy unfolding for later viewing. They do not protect in any useful way.
Fund Mental Health
Mental health care needs funding and attention. Nobody can honestly say funding cannot be found. If Connecticut has enough money for catering services, entertainment, the outrageous salary Uconn’s President makes (which is double the annual salary of former President Obama), new hiking trails, hazard duty pay for pencil pushers, and $9.8 Million in one year for non-law enforcement “home garaged” state employee vehicles; it can be funded. There should not be a stigma associated with seeing a counselor. Venting and getting things off your chest, instead of letting frustrations build up, is healthy and leads to a more productive life. Constructive and objective feedback is great medicine. Strengthening our mental health system can only help to stop at least some of these school attacks before they happen.
In devising a solution to end acts of gun violence in schools, we must look at the overall picture. Connecticut is facing an unprecedented overall total debt of $120 Billion. Sadly, the majority of people will not approve more mental health care workers, law enforcement officers, or other methods of providing safety in every school, even though they could diminish the chances of a mass shooting exponentially. This is not just a financial issue, but also a fear factor issue for some people. Some will ask what children will think to see a police officer with a gun in school. The question they should ask is, what will they think seeing an armed gunman killing their classmates and teachers?
So what can we do?
The first line of defense lies in parenting. Parents need to be active and present moral educators in their children’s lives. Programs intended to help and educate parents are needed to help them learn how to manage and be better aware of such things as their kid’s social media usage. Today’s video games, movies, and television have our kids seeing and engaging in graphic killings, even if they are not real. Many parents do not have the proper dialog with their children to explain that those experiences are make-believe and not the way people should react in real life. We also need to have foresight into new rising technologies like virtual reality, an up and coming interest for our students.
Good Samaritan Law
Unfortunately, some parents these days are not truly monitoring their children. Many will recall the “knock out” game, where kids would attempt to knock out a stranger; this is in many ways evidence of a lack of supervision and emotional guidance by parents these days. Some parents refuse to admit or are afraid of being told that something is mentally or behaviorally wrong with their child, and school administrators fear lawsuits from parents for discriminating against a student if they imply the child may have a disability. I will gladly push for a school “Good Samaritan” type law protecting school administrators and students who come forward with concerning information, to end any fear of prosecution or retaliation by parents seeking to defend their child. Our children living and learning without fear of being shot should be the priority. Good parenting is key in raising good kids who do not resort to such violence.
See Something, Say Something
The second line of defense lies within our children. They see and know far more than we realize, as they know what is going on with other kids. They are 100 times more engaged in media than we are as adults. There should be zero tolerance for possible threats towards schools, including those on social media. In almost every school shooting someone saw something that could be considered a red flag but said nothing or nothing of substance was done about it. That needs to change. Throughout history, it has been proven that complacency kills. Although a few children had been flagged for “disturbances” and even had police investigate them, somehow they slipped through the cracks. Perhaps administrators and local law enforcement need to enact a policy where a temporary “psychological red flag” is attached to and follows a student who has warning signs until the issue has been resolved and certified by a trained mental health professional. This could be established without violating HIPPA regulations. Also, expelling a student does not help an individual with underlying mental health problems; we should be exploring how we help our kids, not simply identifying that they are in need of help. Knowing and listening to our children is also a crucial aspect to end school violence.
Improve School Response Time
Another layer in the line of defense is speed. While the first officer on the scene in Newtown arrived in roughly four minutes, which is quite quick, it is a proven medical fact that a person can bleed out in as little as two to four minutes. A legislative review in 2012 of CT State Police staffing levels found that emergency response times have increased modestly as the number of troopers has declined. The median response time for 911 calls had increased by one minute, from nine to ten minutes. Today our trooper levels are even lower, which inevitably will make response times even longer. In the event of a school shooting there simply cannot be a delay of any kind as law enforcement travels to the scene.
Knowledge of our school properties and their operating procedures is also key to increasing law enforcement response time. We must honestly ask if our police officers and mutual aid are proficient in knowing school layouts and the school staff in the town they serve. When seconds count and an active shooter is located inside a specific classroom, the first officer on scene needs to know exactly where to go immediately upon arrival. He or she must know which side of the school or which exterior door is the closest to the scene in question. It would cost less than a $100 to buy paint and put a colored stripe down each hallway or zone in a school to help facilitate and ease an officer’s response time. When calling 911 an individual would then be able to say, “We have an active shooter in the purple zone at School Alpha, please hurry!” What a concept.
Since most, if not all, school buildings remain locked while occupied, the first officer on scene, or even the state trooper, game warden, or off-duty SWAT officer who happens to live across the street or might be driving by, should have some means of immediate access to what is likely a locked building. This leads to the communications challenges that are encountered in large-scale emergency events that need the response of more resources from multiple other agencies. Codes, signals, and radio stations used to relay important information may be different from one town to the next; consistency could help.
A few other ideas could offer help as well. We could be using that which is expired but not retired. Once police vests hit a certain age they are no longer used by the department. Perhaps they could be turned over to schools for possible use. With the inclusion of a no liability clause, the vests would be donated for free. Something is always better than nothing. Part of military doctrine is using a smoke screen, or the cover of darkness, to mask movements. In some riot control techniques, loud sounds and bright lights have also been employed. Schools have resources that if employed correctly may buy some time until responders arrive. Perhaps fire extinguishers, fire hoses, and the PA system could be used in an effective way. The teacher’s desk, or other furniture like bookcases and student desks, may also provide a safety barrier when pushed against the classroom door. Also, teachers or administrators should post classroom numbers on the exterior window(s)of the school building if possible. This would help law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel, and even police snipers if needed, find the classroom where the most danger and/or victims exist. We must engage in creative problem solving as much as possible to develop solutions to such a deadly problem.
Connecticut School Reserve Protection Officer Program
With all the above in mind, I am proposing the Connecticut School Reserve Protection Officer Program. Minimal taxpayer dollars would be needed to fund the program. It would be run by the Connecticut State Police in between trooper academies, with the aim of properly training one or more full-time school employees to carry a weapon to be used only as a last resort to defend their school and our innocent children against mass casualties. These special officers would only be used in instances where there is an immediate threat to life or of serious bodily harm.
Upon completion of a training course with Connecticut State Police, selected staff would enter a specialized law enforcement service as a certified reserve protection force. Their jurisdiction would be limited to the school property of their respective school system, while on duty. Those certified will also have to complete an annual firearm proficiency course just as do our police officers.
Applicants would need to be Connecticut residents, and pass an extensive security background check and a police psychological evaluation. This certification program would have a critical selection process with in-depth screenings, and preference given to employees who have already gone through a government-type firearm training course. Individuals such as veterans, Reservists, National Guardsmen, law enforcement professionals, and certain correctional officers would be considered first.
Additional criteria for selected candidates would include that they must have a valid pistol permit in our state. They would need to be willing to use their own firearm and ammunition. The identities of these chosen few would not be known to the general public or the students. As it is imperative to not lose a key element in reacting in an unsafe situation, the element of surprise, Operational Security, local law enforcement, school administrators, and local elected officials would be the only ones to know who those people are who have been selected to act as these special officers. Also, this program would be in addition to my proposal to allow off-duty sworn law enforcement to be allowed to carry their weapon in schools.
If I am elected governor and my proposal is not passed by the Connecticut General Assembly, I will grant a reprieve to any member of the military, and/or off-duty police officer if found on school property carrying a concealed handgun with a valid Connecticut permit to carry. I will then call upon the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant a pardon for any related crime in which the above group of person was found guilty.
None of us truly wants to have to have our children protected in such a way while they are at school, but unfortunately what we want and what we need to do at this point are not the same thing. If we take a military approach to devise solutions, unbiasedly study previous school shooting successes and failures, encourage active and positive programs for parents, pay better attention to our students needs and concerns, improve the speed in which help can arrive at the scene of a school, think outside the box for creative solutions, set aside mental health and firearm stigmas, and implement a protective measure such as this proposed Connecticut School Reserve Protection Officers Program, we may finally get a grip on the modern school shooting problem and save our children.
What ideas do you agree with or think need to be implemented to improve school safety? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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Candidate for Governor of Connecticut
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