Glencoe official wants cops in schools on ballot
Glencoe resident Andrew Berlin, pictured with his son Gavin, wants a referendum to decide whether the village should staff armed police officers in its three schools. | Irv Leavitt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 22, 2013 3:23PM
GLENCOE — A member of the Glencoe Public Safety Commission wants a referendum to fund a full-time police officer in each of the town’s three public schools.
Andrew Berlin, 52, said Saturday that he’s backed by a total of 100 Glencoe residents who agree that police officers in Central, South and West schools is a good idea, in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Conn.
His concept, however, is meeting with mixed reviews among Glencoe officials.
Berlin said Saturday that Glencoe government’s elite services to residents aren’t meaningful unless children are protected.
“Everything is important if you have safety,” he said Saturday. “If you don’t have safety, nothing is important.”
Berlin broached the subject in a School Board committee meeting in late January, but said he hasn’t heard from school officials since.
“I don’t want to pick a fight with the school,” he said. “I think they’re doing a wonderful job, and are going about things the right way. I just want to have a discussion.”
District 35 officials, including Superintendent Cathlene Crawford and Board President Nancy Shaw, could not be reached for comment on this story.
Berlin said he knows that school officials have invited three consultants to make safety recommendations, and respects the process, but he has his own consultants: a psychologist specializing in crimes against children and two representatives of law enforcement.
The school district’s process “could take a year at this pace,” he said. “I’m not used to that. In business, we make a decision to do something, and we do it right away.”
Berlin, a non-practicing lawyer, owns and runs a family business, Berlin Packaging. He also owns a minor league baseball team, the South Bend, Ind., Silverhawks, and is a limited partner in the Chicago White Sox.
He said the cost of salary and benefits of three officers would be about $80,000 apiece per year, or an average of about $75 annually for each of the 3,200 residential property taxpayers in town.
Upon learning the next regular referendum opportunity is November, he said he might be willing to speed the process by loaning Glencoe the cost of the three officers.
What if the referendum failed?
“I guess, then, it’d be a donation,” he said.
That might not be out of character for Berlin, who, according to media reports, last year donated $500,000 to help fund the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, his alma mater.
Mike Volling, Glencoe’s chief of public safety, said he couldn’t assign even one officer to a school without hiring.
“At one time we had 37 officers in the department, and now we have 33,” he said. “The bottom line is that if you want to have officers in the schools, they’re going to be in the schools. l can’t pull them out for patrol or” other duties.
Volling said he’d likely need four, not three, new officers to staff three schools because of days off and vacations.
“I believe, no question, putting officers in the schools would make the schools safer,” Volling said. “But it’s not going to be my decision. The Village (Board members) will have to decide (whether) they think it’s really necessary.”
Glencoe Trustee Larry Levin – the lone April candidate for village president – said Monday that at the village’s behest, the school and park districts are studying their security readiness. That process should tell whether officers in schools are a good part of the answer before a referendum could be considered.
Levin doubts the process would point toward Berlin’s solution.
He said police tend to get to Central School in three minutes when there’s trouble, and adding quick school-police communications and audio-visual aids to track a suspicious person through a school would likely provide powerful knowledge to first responders.
“That information may be 10 times more valuable than having an armed person at the door,” he said.
Berlin expects that a school police officer could bring safety and anti-crime programs as well as protection.
“It’s not going to be a 100 percent solution. I know that,” Berlin said, adding that having the officer on hand provides an incremental benefit: the likelihood an attacker will be dissuaded has to go up. If the attacker comes anyway, it’s at least somewhat less likely that he’ll succeed, he said.
Increasing the odds in the kids’ favor is worth whatever it costs – especially if it’s not very much, Berlin said.
Levin disagrees. He said the cost per officer – salary between about $59,000 and $91,000, plus benefits, training and administrative support – approaches $150,000 a year. To add Berlin’s level of protection, an officer also would be needed at the Takiff Center, the home of Glencoe’s public preschool.
In cases where an armed officer is guarding a terror target, Levin said that person is often drawn to the fore, and becomes the first target.
“I’m not sure that having the proper response isn’t better than having an armed officer there, and likely to be the first person shot,” Levin said.
“And then the shoot-out has started, right away,” he said.“It’s a question of whether an officer, in a shoot-out, is more dangerous (to students) than three officers, arriving three minutes later, with information about what’s going on in the school. Right now, I think the three officers are far better than the one officer.”
Berlin said his movement is not about gun control, guns in schools or any hot-button issues; It’s about reducing risk to school children.
“We’re not going to be put off in any way,” he said. “We want safety in the schools.”