NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – In the wake of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, some on Staten Island are calling for armed guards in city schools.
A Monday vote has been set for Staten Island’s Community Education Council to decide whether to hire 300 to 500 retired police officers to serve as plainclothes armed guards in the city’s 1,750 public schools in all five boroughs.
Under the proposal, the former cops would carry concealed weapons and would rotate throughout all the city’s schools.
While the idea has gained some support in a borough that is home to many current and former officers, it has little chance of becoming a reality. That is because the 10-member borough’s council only has the power to make a recommendation to the larger New York City school board. That board and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most outspoken gun-control advocates, have already indicated they have no interest in putting armed guards in schools.
“There’s tremendous support for it, as there’s opposition to it. It’s not so much passing this resolution so much as it is getting the conversation started in New York City and making the mayor and the chancellor realize that this is something that we have to address,” Staten Island Community Education Council president Sam Pirozzolo told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
Still, after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, some Staten Island parents say the idea is worth considering.
“I think it’s a good idea, in the wake of what happened,” said Ruben Ayala, who has a second grader and a kindergartner in the schools. “I’m all for that, especially if it’s retired police officers.”
One parent, Faith, said the idea never crossed her mind before the Connecticut massacre, but it has been on her mind since.
“We should do it,” she said, “because I have a daughter who’s in school, that’s why. I want nothing like that to happen to her.”
Audrey Miller thinks the plan doesn’t even go far enough. She’d like to see armed security full time at the school where her daughter is in kindergarten.
“If they’re here from the time the building opens until the last child is gone, then I’ll have a sense of security,” she said. “Then I know my child is safe.”
“It’s like having a prison now for the kids; to see all the guards, I think it may frighten some of them, you know, and say, why do we have to have cops here now?” said Jerry.
Jerry pointed out that Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., did, in fact, have an armed officer on duty when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on their classmates. The armed officer was not able to curtail the massacre.
Rotating the armed officers through the various schools would mean that someone with bad intentions would never know if a particular school is being patrolled, similar to the way armed air marshals may be on any given passenger plane.
Currently, school safety agents – part of the New York Police Department’s Schools Safety Division – are not armed. They staff schools and entrances to check photo ID and sign in any visitors. They also help monitor for safety.
If there is a criminal or violent incident, the NYPD is called. There are ten schools that are patrolled by armed police officers as part of a special program, but school officials say that is not representative of the district as a whole.
The NYPD hasn’t responded to questions about the use of retired officers being used to patrol schools. According to the proposal, the officers would be hired as independent contractors at no extra cost to the city.
Bloomberg called the Staten Island proposal a “terrible idea” when it was raised last week. He previously tore into the National Rifle Association’s proposal to put armed guards in all schools as representing “a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe.”
And although the vote has yet to take place, the city Department of Education dismissed it Friday. “We are not considering their proposal,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
Pirozzolo said he found the city’s dismissive attitude insulting.
But that disconnect from the rest of the city is nothing new. Staten Island is known as the city’s most residential, most conservative, most police-friendly borough with the lowest crime rate. Its residents often grumble they are the “forgotten borough.” In 1993, Staten Islanders actually voted in favor of seceding from New York City, buoyed by a belief that the borough is typically last on the list for city services. But that movement was blocked in the state legislature.
“We’re trying to do this to start a discussion,” Pirozzolo said.
Children are now being taught about lockdowns and other procedures that might be used if an incident does occur in their schools, he said, why not do something to try to prevent a tragedy before it happens?
“I don’t want to make it seem like New York City is doing nothing,” he said.
But not everyone is convinced the idea would work, and it might not even have succeeded in stopping something like the shooting in Newtown.
Patricia Felliciano, who has one son in junior high school, an 8-year-old son in third grade and a 4-year-old daughter who will enter kindergarten in the fall, recalled that there was an armed guard at Columbine High School who failed to stop the attack there in 1999.
“It’s so easy to forget the past ones when the new tragedy happens,” she said. “I don’t see how it would stop it. If somebody is crazy enough to go in after schoolchildren who can’t defend themselves, they’re crazy enough to go after the armed guard first.”
Following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. school officials in Marlboro, N.J. decided to employ armed guards in every school in the district.
The changes were implemented when students returned from winter break earlier this month.
The Marlboro Board of Education in Monmouth County voted last month to have an uniformed officer in all of its nine schools following the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook.
Mayor Jonathan Hornik acknowledged that it’s a drastic step, but said those who criticize him for opening school campuses to guns aren’t seeing the full picture.
“We’re not bringing guns into schools. We’re bringing our police officers into school that happen to carry guns. These are the same guys we call if there’s an emergency,” Hornik told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
According to the district’s website, Marlboro police officers will “challenge each person entering the schools from the time the buses arrive until the students leave.”
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