Person of the Week
Piascyk Headed Up a Decade of Safety for NBPS
Recently retired North Branford Public Schools (NBPS) school security chief Bob Piascyk provided a decade of dedicated service backed by years of law enforcement experience. He was instrumental in helping North Branford become one of the state’s first school districts to undertake adopting an armed school security team early in 2013, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December 2012. (Photo courtesy of Bob Piascyk )
Eight years ago this week, on Dec. 14, 2012, a single gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. In the days and weeks that followed, the Town of North Branford became one of the state’s first school districts to undertake adopting an armed school security team, headed up by North Branford Public Schools (NPBS) school security chief Bob Piascyk.
In October, Bob officially retired from his 10 years at the NPBS post. He joined NBPS in 2010, just about a year after retiring as chief of police at the Regional Water Authority (RWA) Police Department. Bob's law enforcement career began at the age of 21 and also included serving as an officer with both the Woodbridge and New Haven Police departments.
The Wallingford resident married his wife, Bonnie, at 28 and during his law enforcement career the couple raised their daughter and son (who’s now a firefighter).
“My wife has been very supportive throughout my entire career,” says Bob, who always knew he was going into a career in policing. “It’s something I grew up with in my family. Basically, the family business was either you were in law enforcement or a fireman.”
Bob’s 2009 retirement from his service as an RWA police chief didn’t mean he was ruling out another role in his chosen career.
“When I retired, I had toyed with the idea of going into another law enforcement job,” says Bob, who, through his years with RWA, had worked collaboratively with North Branford Police Department (NBPD) and the town’s fire department.
It didn’t take long for North Branford to come calling, through a collaborative effort of (now retired) NBPD chief Matthew Canelli and Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker.
“In the summer of 2010, Chief Canelli, a colleague of mine I’ve known for many years, called me and asked if I would be interested in working at the high school in security,” says Bob. “They were looking for a retired police officer to help the administrators with security issues and be a liaison with the police department. I went for an interview with the chief and Scott, and I said, ‘You know, I’m going to give this a try.’”
Bob took up his post at North Branford High School (NBHS) and instantly liked his work, he says.
“Once I got there, I found that I did enjoy it. The kids there are great. In any kind of school system, you’re going to have some minor bumps in road, some little problems. But overall, these kids are good kids,” says Bob. “The staff is great and so are the administrators, and Scott is a very good superintendent. He’s very concerned, too, about public safety. Sometimes, when you get into the world of education, it’s tough to educate school officials as to what needs to be done security-wise.”
Following the Sandy Hook School shootings, the NBPS and the Board of Education (BOE), together with NBPD and the Town of North Branford, took immediate action.
“Dec. 14, 2012. I’ll never forget the day. It was a Friday when Newtown happened,” says Bob. “From there, it was chaos throughout the state, as far as school security and trying to tighten things up.”
In North Branford they moved decisively.
Over the Christmas school break, “....Scott and Chief Canelli contacted me and floated the idea that they wanted to hire six or seven more retired police officers, arm them, and put one in every school from 7 in the morning until 6 at night. And they asked if I would help them set up the program and supervise. I was greatly honored that they thought of me.”
While other towns and school districts continued to wrestle with safety solutions, North Branford immediately went into action with a plan, Bob recalls, creating what would become a model for several other towns in the state to follow.
“Right after school went back into session, [NBPS] put out the announcement that they were looking for retired officers, and we conducted interviews [in] January of 2013. We picked six officers, and a seventh as a substitute, and we started from there,” Bob says. “I think we were pretty close to being the state’s first [with the program]. Just to get the logistics down, we had great cooperation, and still do, with NBPD, and Connecticut State Police were very instrumental in helping us with the armed portion.”
Meanwhile, state legislators were acting quickly to bring about new gun control legislation, school safety improvements and provisions for those with mental health issues. One public act, regarding hiring only retired or current law enforcement officers as armed school security members, assisted North Branford’s program with clinching gun training and other protocols for the newly hired officers.
“We had to get training, and once the public act passed, we were able to fall back under the [Connecticut] Police Officers Standards of Training Council for training purposes, which we all had to be certified through prior to retirement,” says Bob.
The security officers undertake firearms training and qualification with NBPD and carry the same weapon and ammunition as NBPD personnel.
“I think that’s key,” says Bob. “You want to have continuity and standardization.”
Bob also helped to write the book, literally, on the NBPS armed school security program.
“When you have a program like this, when you’re starting off you have to establish general standing orders. It’s very similar to when I was [an RWA] chief—you have to have an operations and administrative manual, which is general orders pertaining to a list of things [such as] use of force policy, firearms policy, and job descriptions. We put it all into a manual for the officers. A lot of it is based on state statute and case law,” says Bob.
Based on his experience and years in law enforcement, there’s another reason why hiring retired or current law enforcement officers as armed school security officers is important, says Bob.
“You have to have the right person for that job. You really want somebody that’s got a law enforcement background and that’s been in and out of schools in their capacity as a policeman,” he says, adding, “unfortunately in this day, to have an unarmed security person in the school...basically you’re just going to add to the casualty count. How do you defend yourself and the people you’re protecting? That’s one of the reasons I like the idea of having the retired officers that still have a good number of [active] years left, and can use their expertise carrying firearms and training with firearms, and being in an environment where there’s a lot of people, especially young people. You have to be very cognizant of that.”
Looking back at the speed with which armed security guards were put in all NBPS schools by the start of the 2013 school year, Bob says it’s a testament to the town’s leadership among its schools, local government, and police services, backed by a supportive community.
“The BOE and the town was very supportive, and still are, of the program,” says Bob. “Many of the parents of the students have mentioned to me, personally, how happy they are that there’s somebody like our officers there to protect their kids.”
The NBPS model Bob helped to institute has also become a model for other school systems.
“A number of districts have come and looked at our program, and Scott and I have done several presentations, one of which was for Newtown, and [now] they have a similar program,” says Bob.
Schoonmaker credits Bob with providing the leadership and logistics that helped launch and sustain the NBPS program.
“Bob Piascyk was a consummate professional,” says Schoonmaker. “He came and helped start this security team during the most sensitive time in Connecticut’s history, after the Sandy Hook tragedy. We put together a plan in a short time that was comprehensive and kept the best interests of the school community, the students, and staff in mind. And he helped to grow the relationship with our security guards within the school community so that they are now absolutely admired for what they do and what they bring to our school district.”
Bob is especially proud of the officers who have served and currently serve with the NBPS security detail during his 10-year tenure.
“Every officer has a lot of years of experience. Most of my guys were all either supervisors or detectives. We have a very good selection of people,” he says.
Bob also thanks the students and staff for supporting the district’s school security program, especially in the early days.
“The biggest challenge is changing the culture with students and staff [such as] don’t prop open doors; if you see something, say something. Even though [the] Columbine [High School shooting] was back in the ‘90s, you didn’t really think of it happening here. So it was challenging to change the culture after Sandy Hook, in as far as schools were a welcoming place,” says Bob.
He also credits NBPS’s Operations Supervisor Bill Choti with working to help ensure the school buildings were physically secure.
“The buildings were built in a time, even [most recently] the intermediate school, when schools were not were not really built with security in mind. Bill Choti, who also recently retired, was excellent to work with. He was a wealth of knowledge with the building issues,” says Bob.
Now, with a new NBHS in the works, Bob says the district will benefit from having enhanced school security baked into the design.
“When you’re building a new building, you have the ability to put certain protocols into place right with the building itself. That’s tough when you’re trying to retrofit a building from 1964 to the standards that we want to today,” says Bob.
Bob also says he’s very pleased with the district’s choice for his replacement, retired NBPD sergeant David Madoule, who, like Bob, is on duty daily at NBHS. Madoule served with NBPD for 25 years before retiring Oct. 2 and starting his new job with NBPS Oct. 5.
“I’ve known Dave for 25 years. He’s a great replacement. He’s worked in the town and was a supervisor for the police department and has three children who went through the school system, so he was in and out of the schools regularly. It was a perfect fit, a seamless transition, and that’s the way we wanted it,” says Bob.
Speaking of seamless transitions, Bob stayed on for over a week after he retired in October to help Madoule take the reins, and also assisted him with the state-required All-Hazards School Security and Safety Plan, which had to be submitted by Dec. 1. In addition, Bob is still helping out as a substitute for the NPBS school security team, notes Schoonmaker.
“We’re going to certainly miss him, but he’s going to still continue to substitute when we get in a jam and we need a security person,” Schoonmaker said. “He’ll be here to help us out.”
Bob says he enjoys getting the chance to go back into the schools to help out, especially at NBHS.
“I’m gone, but I’m still around,” he says. “I do miss the people. I miss the students and the great staff and administrators. That was one of the more enjoyable parts of the job.”