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Suffolk to study hotline alert system for schools

Joseph Townsend, head of security for Center Moriches

Joseph Townsend, head of security for Center Moriches middle and high schools, monitors cameras in the security office. (Jan. 18, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

The Suffolk Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday to launch a study to determine whether to create an emergency hotline system in schools throughout the county to speed police response to emergencies.

The emergency measure, sponsored by Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), would consider updated safety measures in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The measure calls for police to examine the cost and technical issues involved in hooking up 441 public and private primary and secondary schools as well as day care centers and colleges. The study must be completed in 120 days.

"It was so important to move the bill quickly, and we did," Anker said after the vote. "Our only fear is that we can't do it fast enough."

Lawmakers acted after several top school officials embraced Anker's proposal.

"Calamities visit school every day," said Mount Sinai superintendent Enrico Crocetti, citing family custody battles and drug problems. "Time is ticking, and it takes six to nine minutes for a police cruiser to arrive at a school. We need to a way react more quickly -- time saves lives."Leonard Devlin, security chief for the Sayville Public Schools said, "We have these systems installed in banks . . . to protect our money. Why not install them in schools to protect our children?"

Police officials, who already are studying the issue, say they are considering dedicated phone lines that school officials could use to immediately reach a duty officer for help. Police spokesman Kevin Fallon said such a system is better than those using panic buttons because callers are sure they got through, and police can get detailed information on the emergency so they know how to respond.

Anker and police officials said it was too early to determine the cost, though Anker said she expected it to be "very reasonable." She said the estimated monthly cost of each phone line would be about $4 plus equipment charges. The county would not force schools to participate but offer them the option, Anker said.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) told police officials to make sure the study considers how a system would be set up on the East End where towns an villages have their own police departments. Police officials say school calls would likely go duty officers in local departments.

In other action, the legislature:

Approved the appointment of former Presiding Officer Paul Tonna as a member of the county Industrial Development Agency. Tonna is a consultant to developer Jerry Wolkoff who has balked at having a project labor agreement for his huge Heartland project.

In other action, the legislature defeated a move to appeal a court decision that threw out term limits for the district attorney, county clerk and sheriff.

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