By Rich Scinto
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN — New FBI director and Westport resident James Comey stopped in at the New Haven field office Friday with a message that the agency stands ready to help local and state law enforcement in the fight against threats to school security.
The message comes on the heels of three recent school lockdowns at Central Connecticut State University, Yale University and the University of New Haven after reports of gunmen on or near campus.
It also comes about a week before the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown.
Comey, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, stood a head or more above local police chiefs at a press conference Friday afternoon.
His agency can help prevent or manage a school shooting scenario in a variety of ways, he said.
One way is through developing behavioral analysis that will help unveil indicators of a potential shooter. It also offers other law enforcement agencies training on how to deal with an active shooting situation.
The new director was sworn-in Sept. 4 and has been making the rounds to the country's FBI field offices. He said it was good to be home in Connecticut, despite the dreary weather.
One member of the press asked if Comey worries that a high frequency of lockdowns will lead people to not take them seriously. He said that he hopes it would have the opposite effect, that people will realize there is a serious problem and will say something if they see something.
Counter-terrorsim will remain the FBI's priority, he said. Unfortunately, the agency's mission is becoming more difficult to accomplish in the face of budgetary cuts.
"We are collateral damage in a budget dispute that has nothing to do with the FBI's mission," he said.
Possible furloughs can be potentially dangerous, he said.
"The bad guys won't be taking that day off," Comey said.
Local and state law enforcement personnel met with Comey earlier in the day and talked about some of the issues that face the state and nation. Among the causes for concern were cities that have a high per-capita rate of violence. He noted Connecticut has a number of cities that fit the description.
The director didn't speak directly to Project Longevity, the local, state and federal strategy to combat gang violence in the state, but said the agency is working hard on combating violence and that they recently formed a new violent crime task force.
New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman said the group talked about three main issues earlier in the day: federal budgetary concerns, the threat of terrorism and violence in the community. Esserman said that "moral outrage is needed in Washington" every time the country loses a life to violence.
Yale University Police Chief Ronnell Higgins said his department, the FBI and a number of other agencies have good relationships with each other that led to the Yale University lockdown being executed swiftly and properly. In that case, the report of a gunman turned out to be a hoax.
"The partnership between the Yale Police Department and the FBI has been long standing and good," he said. "You don't exchange business cards after a crisis."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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