From New York's Staten Island borough, an idea has emerged to tap into the city's vast network of retired police officers as an armed force to patrol the schools but the idea is getting a thumbs down from the city's public schools' chancellor.
Staten Island's Community Education Council voted Monday 8-1 in favor of a proposal to hire 300 to 500 retired police officers to serve as plainclothes security guards, carry concealed weapons, and rotate among the city's 1,750 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's 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.
On Monday's Good Day New York, Chancellor Dennis Walcott also rejected the idea.
"Retired police officers in the schools is not going to happen," Walcott said. He said that the school system already has a good working relationship with the NYPD and has security at every school already.
Still, after the deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month that killed 20 first-graders and six educators, some Staten Island parents say the idea is worth considering.
"It's a good idea, in the wake of what happened," said Ruben Ayala, who has a second-grader and a kindergartener in the schools. "I'm all for that, especially if it's retired police officers."
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."
Retired officers are likely to support such a program, said Kevin Meurer, a former NYPD lieutenant who served 22 years until he retired in 2010 from a Staten Island precinct. "You have thousands of trained guys who could do this without breaking a sweat," he said.
The potential to earn extra cash would appeal to many retired officers, especially those who have been off the force for some time and see inflation at work on their pensions, Meurer said. But there would also be a pull to serve their city once again. "It's a calling being a cop; it's not just a job."
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 10 schools that are patrolled by armed police officers as part of a special program — none on Staten Island — but school officials say that is not representative of the school system 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.
Sam Pirozzolo, the president of the borough's advisory school board, 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."