MERIDEN — School resource officers will return to the city’s middle schools todayafter budget cuts prompted Police Chief Jeffry Cossette to cut the positions in September.
Cossette said Friday that today will be the officers’ first day back in school since Sept. 15. The City Council voted 6-2 last week to fund the positions by transferring money from other departments. The funds were freed up by current vacancies in various departments in addition to anticipated vacancies from several upcoming retirements. At the time the council restored funding for SROs, city officials didn’t know exactly when the officers would return to schools.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni said he’s “very pleased” the SROs will be returning.
“The SROs have been a proactive team member who regularly shares concerns occurring in the community with school staff While the SRO is the only person on school grounds who serves in a law enforcement role, they regularly help prevent problems before they occur,” Benigni said Friday.
In addition to providing security, SROs are responsible for conducting school programming, building rapport with students and families and proactively de-escalating situations at the schools. Officers Thomas Giannakopoulos and Margaret Smusz are the officers assigned to Lincoln Middle School and Washington Middle School, respectively, according to the city website.
Prior to budget cuts made by the City Council and mayor as part of a referendum process earlier this year, the police department had five SROs assigned to schools – one in each high school, one in each middle school, and one assigned to all eight elementary schools.
To manage $423,000 in cuts to his budget, Cossette eliminated the middle school and elementary school SROs along with the department’s 11-member Neighborhood Initiative Unit and moved the officers back to patrol, which Cossette said would lower overtime expenses.
Many members of the public spoke at meetings in recent months urging city officials to reinstate the SROs and NI officers.
City Manager Tim Coon, who previously led curriculum training of all municipal police officers in Connecticut for 20 years, said reinstating the elementary school SRO was a “lower priority” than middle school SROs because there is only one officer assigned to eight schools. Coon added that developmentally it’s more important for students to have interactions with police at the middle school level.
Councilor Cathy Battista asked Coon at the council meeting last week whether the city is trying to reinstate the NI Unit.
Coon said the NI Unit is "a very valuable unit," but noted there are "a number of issues" with reinstating it, including funding and "contractual language between the city and police officers involved."
Read more articles like this and help support local journalism by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access just 99¢
Read more articles like this by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access for just 99¢