MERIDEN — City officials remain hopeful they can restore school resource officers at the two middle schools before the end of the month.
City Manager Tim Coon said reinstating the SROs is “one of my top priorities.” He hopes to have a clear timeline after meeting with Police Chief Jeffry Cossette this week. Cossette removed SROs from Washington and Lincoln middle schools in September in response to cuts to the police budget.
“We’re still looking at the process to get them in. It’s one of my highest priorities,” Coon said, adding he and Cossette need to assess funding and scheduling before reinstating the officers.
Cossette, who didn’t return requests for comment, said in October that he hoped to reinstate the officers early this month, but first had to monitor overtime expenses to see if the department could transfer the $60,000 needed.
Cossette cut three of the department’s five SRO positions and the city’s entire 11-officer Neighborhood Initiative Unit on Sept. 15 after the mayor and City Council reduced the police budget by a total of $423,000. The SRO and NI officers were returned to regular patrol to reduce overtime.
Along with the SROs at each of the middle schools, Cossette also eliminated a third position assigned to all of the city’s elementary schools. The two SROs assigned to the city’s high schools were not cut.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni said the SROs are an important resource because they work to prevent problems before they occur. Benigni has been told by city officials the officers will return “around mid-November.”
“We don’t like going without them for a day, so the sooner the better,” Benigni said, “but we also understand there's a process that needs to be followed.”
In addition to providing security, resource officers are also responsible for conducting programming and building rapport with students and families to address issues early on.
During public meetings in recent months, several residents urged city officials to reinstate the SRO and NI officers.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati previously criticized Coon and Cossette for not moving quickly enough to reinstate SROs at the middle schools. Scarpati, who couldn’t be reached for comment, initially wanted to transfer money from the city's contingency fund just days after the officers were removed from schools, but pulled back because he didn't have enough support from councilors and agreed to allow Coon and Cossette to work out a plan.
"When you're dealing with school security, I don't think it can be handled fast enough,” Scarpati said last month.
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