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Wallingford takes different approach to school policing

WALLINGFORD — While other nearby municipalities have police officers assigned to schools, Wallingford school and police officials said a lack of funding prevents them from doing the same.

Cheshire’s school system has one police officer or school resource officer that spends time in the town’s high school and middle school. Southington has a police officer at the high school and another that rotates between the middle and elementary schools.

Meriden will soon have a sixth school resource officer that will rotate through eight elementary schools. The city currently has officers in each of its three high schools and two middle schools. A school resource officer is a police officer trained to work in schools.

Lt. Mark Mikulski, Wallingford public information officer, said the school system has never had a school resource officer during his 28-year tenure.

“The police department is already not fully staffed — they haven’t been for several years. It’s always mentioned at budget time that they have open positions,” School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said. “It’s an ongoing struggle each year.”

The Police Department has 95 employees. In April, Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio said six patrol officer positions were unfilled.

Menzo said he feels having school resources officers isn’t possible because of Police Department budget constraints. In Meriden, Southington and Cheshire, school resource officers are funded through the Police Department budget.

“Wallingford (is) working with police in a different way. It’s not right or wrong, better or worse,” Menzo said. “It’s just a different way of handling it to meet the needs of the community and addressing the fact of the financial matters and the capacity matters.”

“We’re in there. When something happens in the school, we’re well aware of what’s going on,” Mikulski added.

While the town doesn’t have officers assigned to specific schools, there are two community police officers that work with school officials.

The officers “offer services to students that have truancy or disciplinary issues” and “provide support and Internet safety,” Menzo said.

Mikulski said the town’s two youth officers also work with the school system. The officers are non-sworn, Mikulski said, and provide social services.

Since 2013, external cameras, greeters and a buzzer system were added to the town’s 12 schools.

The school board also recently hired Ed Carpino as the school system’s part-time security specialist. Carpino’s background includes working with Federal Bureau of Investigation, Menzo said.

“The value is that he’s been a part of the FBI. There is some new learning to it because school security is very different from the FBI,” Menzo said. “But he has an intuitive quality to himself to allow him to do what he does.”

Despite the lack of school resource officers, Mikulski said the police department “maintains a close relationship with the schools.”

“Our Police Department is extremely collaborative and has offered support whenever we asked,” Menzo added. (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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