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Florida learns school safety lessons from Newtown

3:40 PM, Jul 10, 2013   |    comments
NEWTOWN, CT - DECEMBER 14: Responders gather at the scene of a mass school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. There are 27 dead, 20 of them children, after Adam Lanza reportedly opened fire in one of the largest school massacres in U.S. history. Lanza is dead at the scene and his mother, a teacher at the school, is also dead. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Police from across Florida are hearing a firsthand account of the scene that first responders encountered when they arrived at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut last December.

Lt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police and Lt. Christopher Vanghele of the Newtown Police Department spoke to law enforcement officers, educators and first responders at a school safety summit near Tallahassee.

Lt. Vanghele said what he witnessed at the school is not something anyone could describe or imagine. A gunman killed 20 children and six adults there before killing himself.

Vanghele wants to share his experience in the hopes it helps keep children safer in the future.

The Newtown tragedy has prompted a national discussion on school safety measures, including installing bulletproof windows, security cameras, hiring private security or placing police officers in schools.

Vanghele strongly supports more school resource officers.

"One of the best things you can do is obviously have a trained police officer or school resource officer at your elementary school every single day. That's what we're doing right now in Newtown."

Lt. Vanghele acknowledges that putting police officers in every elementary school can be very expensive, so school districts should consider a range of security ideas.

He said some communities are giving police officers a special key fob that can open any door at any school.

"Any police officer can get into any single door on any single school in their town, which I think is a great leap forward in school safety. So in one aspect or another, I think people are learning from it and trying to do the best that they can with what they have."

Lt. Vanghele hopes Newtown's experience will help lead the way to new ideas on school safety.

"That's maybe one of the reasons why we're here is to tell our story and lessons that are learned from it. To have our fellow officers and people in emergency management and the school systems look at what we had in place and what we plan to do and what we went through and good or bad have them learn from us."

Florida schools asked state lawmakers this year to put more money in the state budget for school security, but lawmakers decided to keep funding at about $65 million. They also set aside about $1 million to help schools complete security assessments of their campuses.

Dave Heller

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