Putnam Sheriff Discusses Plans to ‘Harden’ Local Schools

Project to address threats with $2 million in federal funds

When Putnam County Sheriff Kevin McConville last month told county legislators about ways to “target-harden” schools against gun attacks, he sounded vexed about some educators’ apparent reluctance to get involved.

“We just don’t get it,” the sheriff told the Legislature’s Protective Services Committee on April 17. He used the meeting to outline his “team up for school safety” initiative, which he said emanated out of mass killings last year at a Buffalo grocery and a public school in Uvalde, Texas.

He said his department had been “imploring” districts to join the effort but that “there is frustration in terms of acceptance of what we’re trying to offer,” such as technology to make schools more impregnable and expedite police response.

McConville did not specify which districts have not responded favorably, but Superintendent Philip Benante said on Tuesday (May 2) that Haldane is participating. (The Garrison district did not respond to an inquiry.)

In addressing the legislators, McConville explained that after the Buffalo and Uvalde killings, he and then-County Executive MaryEllen Odell discussed using $2 million of the county’s share of federal COVID-19 relief funding to improve school security.

To follow up, he said, he and others visited districts and asked for their “wish lists” for protection. Responses didn’t start arriving until September and some were prohibitively expensive, such as a $1.3 million for a telephone system or the installation of bulletproof glass, the sheriff told legislators.

“Two million dollars seems like a lot, but it’s not enough to target-harden in a more appropriate or more effective way,” he explained.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, who chairs the committee, observed that in many schools “it’s just glass everywhere. It’s such a dangerous situation.” But, she added, “I don’t know that we can afford to [replace] it all at once. But we should really be looking at that.”

Given the fiscal restraints, McConville said his department started to explore less-costly measures, such as a “door ajar” system that issues audio and visual alerts when an exterior door is open. Another option, which he described as “pretty ingenious,” utilizes a school’s WiFi system and connected devices, such as phones and laptops, to notify authorities of a threat and pinpoint the location.

In January, when the Sheriff’s Department held a demonstration of the WiFi-based product, only a few district representatives showed up despite numerous invitations. “The response wasn’t what we thought it should be,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department wants to begin a trial of the system in a school that expressed interest, he added. To participate, districts must provide data on the number of devices they want connected to the system and “we’re anxiously waiting” for that, McConville said.

He said that when he visited districts, he tried to get officials to sign agreements giving the Sheriff’s Department “urgent immediate access” to security installations such as closed-circuit TV or card-dependent entry. But various school officials seemed hesitant, which he called “very troublesome and very disheartening.”

Nacerino, too, said she is “disappointed to hear school districts are dragging their feet on this. They should’ve been on board from Day One. You can’t preach that you support school safety and then not seize the opportunity to improve school safety by a coordinated effort with law enforcement.”

Benante said Tuesday that Haldane’s facilities department and the door-ajar vendor have been discussing implementation of that tool. He also said that McConville spoke to the Haldane school board earlier this year about Sheriff’s Department access to Haldane’s camera system and using a 3D-imaging program to assist first responders. The district’s lawyer has reviewed the proposed memorandum of understanding, which is now back with the county attorney.

5 thoughts on “Putnam Sheriff Discusses Plans to ‘Harden’ Local Schools

  1. It is safer to send your 8-year-old to war than it is to school. The number of children and teens who have been shot and killed in this country since 1963 (nearly 193,000, according to the advocacy group Change the Ref) is more than four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

    So yeah — “harden” schools; “good guys with guns”; “teachers with guns” — that’s all just National Rifle Association and political B.S. It’s how you take the focus off the need to ban assault weapons; pass tougher gun laws; connect medically challenged individuals to law enforcement and gun shops; red-flag laws; and ghost-gun bans, instead of a $1.5 million phone system. Hardening schools ignores the real political issue of children’s safety, and that money and politics come before lives.

    Shouldn’t a county sheriff be screaming at the top of his or her lungs to ban weapons that the department can’t defend against? Or telling legislators to ban gun shows that are fraught with purchasing loopholes? My God — the NRA has infiltrated our local law enforcement with its diversion tactics.

  2. As schools are more frequently banning backpacks, it’s possible that bulletproof vests for our kids will be next. We need to elect officials who are fervent supporters of banning assault weapons.

  3. What is the root cause of gun violence? During a visit to Aiken, South Carolina, I walked into a hardware store to purchase a charger for my cell phone, No exaggeration, within minutes a salesman approached and asked if I’d like to purchase a gun. He then assured me it would take only 10 minutes to process the paperwork. As God is my witness!

    Addressing preventive measures are fine and dandy, but unless we fix the roots and causes, the only people who benefit are the companies selling the symptom solutions.

    What are the causes of gun violence. How about starting with accountability and work our way from there? “How many times can a man turns his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” What are the causes of gun violence?

  4. In the militarized world of Sheriff McConville and Legislator Nacerino, the enemy lurks, waiting to murder our children at soft-target schools poorly defended by too little “ingenious” technology and too much “glass everywhere.”

    That immediate enemy, of course, is real. It’s our deranged, alienated fellow citizens, mainly adolescent boys.

    But behind these triggermen stand those who supply them with motives and material, notably the retailers, manufacturers and propagandists who promote and profit from judicial interpretations of the Second Amendment that twist the right to bear arms into a license to commit mass homicide.

    The way to protect children in schools, any thoughtful educator and public servant would agree, is to tackle the causes of school shootings with active mental-health measures that treat the alienated and those who alienate them, and rein in the enablers with sensible limitations on the sale and possession of firearms.

  5. We all fear for the safety of our children and what could happen as the number of attacks on schools, malls, churches and almost any community event mount.

    We all want our kids and other members of our community to be safe and live joyously. As a retired teacher, I feel this keenly as the students I taught are now raising their own families.

    There is a lot to think about when it comes to arming teachers. Here is what Melissa Falkowski, who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, says about the logistics of arming teachers: “A shooting like the one in Parkland, Florida, happens in less than three minutes, and having a gun that would have to be secured and locked somewhere in a closet and then having to go for that gun and then having to use that against a shooter, makes no logical sense.”

    I understand that Sheriff McConville “feels vexed” about the reluctance of educators to get involved in a “team up for school safety.” There are good reasons for this and I hope that all the pros and cons can be laid out in a robust community discussion that will increase the safety and well-being of us all.

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