As alarming as the recent bomb scare at Meriden’s Israel Putnam School was, it’s hard to see how the police or the school system could have handled it better.
On Aug. 30 a package, later determined to be a pressure cooker, was found at the corner of Parker Avenue and Markham Place, about 200 feet from the school. This was around 7:45 a.m., just as the morning rush was about to start. A school resource officer was on the scene from about 8:13 a.m. Soon there would be school buses arriving, as well as children who walk to school and parents dropping their children off.
The pressure cooker turned out not to contain explosives, and it was safely “detonated” by state police, with no reported injuries. But the police and school system had to act — and fast — with the memory of the 2013 Boston Marathon pressure-cooker bombing in mind.
So everyone arriving at Putnam was diverted around the corner to the school’s Charles Street entrance. School started at 8:45 a.m.
“Everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to work,” Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said. “The kids were never in danger.” School Superintendent Mark Benigni said he was satisfied with the response.
Understandably, though, some parents were critical. Why weren’t the buses diverted? That seems a reasonable question, but looking back (with the 20-20 vision that time provides), a diversion would raise its own questions.
Divert them to where? Probably to another school, but how would that school have handled an unexpected influx of Putnam students during its own morning rush? And, because the alert happened when buses were already on their way, could the police have contacted the bus company in time for their dispatcher to contact all Putnam buses by radio and tell them to divert? It sounds like there was no time to organize all of that.
Also, since most school buses make several runs each morning — typically one elementary school route, then a middle school route, then a high school route — all those other students would have wound up waiting on street corners all over town, for some unknown amount of time, creating another safety concern.
We trust that the Police Department and the school system will be reviewing this incident to see whether their responses could be improved. And we urge the police chief and city manager to take a hard look at any proposal to reduce the number of school resource officers.
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