The safety and security of New Milford's students, teachers and personnel was foremost on the minds of Chief of Police Frank Papapietro and Superintendent Michael Polizzi Monday morning.
Since the shootings occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been an increased police presence at all of the New Milford public schools. Also, Papapietro spent Monday morning visiting each school and meeting with the principals.
Understanding that the question on the mind of every parent is, "How safe are our schools?" Papapietro and Polizzi stress that safety is ensured by preparedness through routine crisis response training drills, effective emergency response plans, and fluid communication between the schools and the police department.
Both Papapietro and Polizzi work closely in ensuring that emergency response training drills are held at each school to practice preparedness in the event that a real life-threatening emergency occurs. According to Papapietro, these twice monthly drills are coordinated with NMPD and Bergen County law enforcement. Drills include: shelter-in-place, lock downs, evacuation, bus drills, and bomb threats. (Fire drills are held separately.)
Additionally, each school has an emergency response plan developed by each school's safety committee in conjunction with the NMPD.
David E. Owens Middle School and the High School each have School Resource Officers (SRO) --an officer of the New Milford Police Department assigned to those schools. SRO Officers promote safer schools and, through positive interactions with the students, safer kids. P.O. Keith Wester is assigned to DEOMS and P.O. Bill Wilde is assigned to NMHS.
Most parents want to know how prepared law enforcement is in dealing with a shooter who gains access to a school.
Papapietro told Patch that all officers in the NMPD have undergone 'active shooter' training and participate in annual simulation drills.
"I will never let New Milford lapse into an 'it can't happen here' mentality," Papapietro said.
"We certainly hope it never happens here, but this department is fully trained, equipped and prepared if it ever should," he emphasized.
The Department of Homeland Security defines an 'active shooter' as an individual actively engaged in killing, or attempting to kill, people in a confined and populated area.
Of note is the fact that Papapietro is responsible for articulating the vision that would become the federally mandated active shooter training program. In 2003, Papapietro was invited to attend an elite professional development training program at the FBI-National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, specifically designed to meet the complex challenges of law enforcement leaders. Attending this training with Papapietro was a law enforcement official from Colorado who was part of the team that responded to the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
Papapietro said that this official related to him the personal horror of having to secure the perimeter of the school while waiting for the SWAT team to arrive knowing that there were active shooters and hundreds of students, teachers and personnel within the building.
Through a series of conversations with this official, Papapietro concluded that law enforcement needed a quicker, more effective, response in a situation where an active shooter was involved. He brought the idea of developing a unified active shooter training program to the Bergen County Chiefs Association who embraced the idea. It was then further developed and adopted by the Bergen County Police Department. Ultimately, it spread nationwide.
In the aftermath of Newtown, Papapietro and Polizzi said that visible vigilance around the schools is high. However, they stressed that safety and security initiatives are in place in every school and are regularly updated and enhanced.
Papapietro said, "The public needs to know that law enforcement is ever-vigilant and always aware, and prepared, for any potential threat."