CUMBERLAND — Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson along with Lt. Randy Cutter have returned from Newtown, Conn., following a Tuesday morning meeting with their law enforcement counterparts in a place uniquely qualified to discuss school security measures.
Newtown was the site of one of the worst school shooting incidents in U.S. history in December when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School before turning the gun on himself.
“They have had such a tragedy there,” said Robertson.
Robertson said they had a meeting that lasted over an hour and described it as good and informative. Robertson and Cutter met with Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe and Capt. Joe Rios at the police station.
“We went there to try to get information on security in comparison to our area and schools,” said Robertson.
Robertson said they did not discuss the shooting incident itself. He said they were aware of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Newtown Police Department and related law enforcement agencies still have personnel out as they try to come to grips with the deep emotional scars left from the tragedy.
Robertson said an attempt to visit the school to gain knowledge from the site for security purposes was unsuccessful.
“We tried to drive to the school when we got there Monday evening. However, we were unable to visit because the site is still an open investigation,” said Robertson.
Some memorials still remain at homes and government locations.
“There was a six- to eight-bay fire station across from the school. They had 26 crosses erected on top of it,” said Robertson.
Cards from students at Westernport, Parkside and Cresaptown elementary schools along with a letter of condolence from the Allegany County commissioners were delivered to Kehoe to distribute at his discretion, according to Robertson.
“I think this is a great initiative on his (Robertson’s) part. I’m glad he included our students in it,” said Mike Llewellyn, member of the Allegany County Board of Education.
Robertson said a goal of the visit was to explain the security situation in Allegany County.
“We focused on law enforcement while we were there,” said Robertson.
Robertson said they (Newtown) are facing some of the same issues of budget, stretched manpower and limited resources.
“We found that they are doing the same things there that we are doing here. We are both being pro-active,” he said.
Newtown has eight public schools and three private schools and has officers and other security personnel present in the schools, according to Robertson.
The current push in Allegany County and many school districts across the country is to add security personnel at the schools in the form of school resource officers.
Robertson said he is looking at obtaining a federal Community Oriented Policing Services Grant to add more school resource officers.
The county commissioners have earmarked $190,000 so far during their 2014 budget process to go to law enforcement to help with the costs of adding additional security details.
“We need something by the fall,” said Llewellyn. “This is about keeping our kids safe.”
Robertson said that the training required to get officers in the schools presents a challenge for any plan. New officers, with a required six months at the police academy, can take up to two years to be ready. Retired and off-duty officers who are already certified will still have to receive additional training, according to Robertson.
Llewellyn said that response time is critical if something were to happen.
“We need someone who can be there right away,” said Llewellyn.
Greg Larry can be contacted at email@example.com.