NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- New Rochelle Police Commissioner has a solution to the problematic security situation in New Rochelle schools: give him control over school security.
"The Board of Education should give the school security budget to the police department," said Police Commissioner Patrick J. Carroll in an exclusive interview with Talk of the Sound.
Carroll made the suggestion during an interview to discuss the department's role in school lockdown/lockout procedures and manpower issues that surfaced during a New Year's Day incident in which police surrounded an apartment building on Main Street after reports of a possible hostage situation.
In the wake of the Newtown shootings, school security has become a major issue throughout the United States, including New Rochelle.
Carroll said there would be a number of benefits to the police managing school security. Police would be on scene immediately in the event of an incident. The presence of sworn police officer would have a strong deterrent effect. Civilian security guards would be on the police department radio system giving them instant access to the police dispatcher. Carroll said the police department would be responsible for training and certification of all civilian security guards in the schools.
Carroll noted that the New York City Police Department already provides security for New York City schools.
On New Year's Day every available officer in New Rochelle responded to 759 Main Street and mutual aid was called in from police departments in Scarsdale, Eastchester and the Town of Mamaroneck.
A report of a domestic dispute involving a man with a rifle came in at 6:53 p.m.
Steven Blanchard surrendered to police at 9:14 a.m.
In the time in between, New Rochelle police received 11 calls including 2 burglaries, 2 disputes (physical or verbal altercations), 2 commercial alarms, 2 personal welfare calls and 3 EMS calls.
Response times were slower than usual. In the case of the burglary, sources tell Talk of the Sound the response time was 30 minutes and it was 3 hours before New Rochelle police were able to process the crime scene.
Carroll blames a lack of manpower.
"I'm down from 189 officers to 152 with 10 inured for an effect number of 142 officers fit for duty." Carroll said.
Carroll sees transferring security responsibilities from the Board of Education to the Police Department as a potential solution to the depletion of manpower the department had faced for the past several years.
"I get more cops if I need them but during the day they are available for school security", said Carroll.
Police officers in the schools would not have ammunition and would work with the existing civilian security structure.
Carroll said he would also like to involve school crossing guards. He said that $300,000 a year is being spent on crossing guards who are only actually crossing students 1 to 2 hours a day. He would rather see them involved in providing school security, serving as "eyes and ears" outside the building.
On the subject of lockdown/lockout procedures, Carroll says the police department uses their best judgement as to whether to notify area schools of an incident.
In September, the Jefferson Elementary School was put on lockdown after police made school officials aware of a manhunt for a suspect in a robbery on Drake Avenue, several blocks from the school. Despite initial reports that the suspect might have used a gun in the robbery, police later determined from the victim that the initial reports were incorrect.
Two weeks ago, police did not contact school officials following an armed burglary on Willow Avenue near the College of New Rochelle.
Commissioner Carroll said a number of factors go into determining whether to inform school officials of an incident. Typically, the supervisor would make the decision whether to contact school officials.
"Every case is dynamic," said Carroll. "In the Jefferson case, there was an ongoing incident and reports the person had cut through school property. In the Willow Avenue case that was an incident in the past."
The victim in the Willow Avenue case did not call police until 20 minutes after the two suspects fled the scene.
Carroll identified four main factors that go into determining whether to notify area schools of an incident: (1) whether the incident is in progress or in the past; (2) the method of escape such as on foot, in a car, or some other method; (3) an eyewitness saw a suspect enter a school building; (4) or anything else that confirms that the suspect is in the area.
"We don't want to put panic into the system," said Carroll.
Carroll believes that folding school security under the New Rochelle Police Department would allow for a fully integrated response to security incidents resulting in safer schools while giving the department access to additional manpower to response to situations like the situation on New Year's Day.