New Fairfield to assign school resource officers to each school
NEW FAIRFIELD — Each of the district’s four schools will likely have a school resource officer for the full school day this year.
The Board of Selectmen has sent a $120,000 request for a middle school officer to the Board of Finance, which will need to set a town meeting to approve the funding. The additional officer was a recommendation in a recent audit of security practices.
As was the case when officers were added to the lower-level schools late last year, the money will pay for the town’s five police officers to rotate working at the school by picking up overtime hours. The district’s existing school resource officer, who splits his time between the middle and high school, will be designated to the high school.
The system will be used as a place-holder as the School Safety and Security Committee, which oversaw the audit results, looks into hiring officers for each of the schools. The hiring process could take up to 15 months, officials said.
Selectman Khris Hall said the consultant report identified a lack of a designated SRO at the middle school as a weakness.
“I have reservations about the current model of using overtime...(but) this is an important first step to take to getting that additional SRO in place reasonably within the time frame of the start of school,” Hall said.
The $9,500 audit was performed at the end of last school year by Branford-based Nationwide Security Corporation. It was commissioned by the School Safety and Security Committee, a group created to oversee security upgrades after parents spoke out following the Parkland, Fla., shooting.
Committee members and other officials have said they worry using overtime hours to cover the schools will overwork officers. The town has also had to bring in state police troopers to fill in when there isn’t a local officer available to cover one of the shifts.
“We do have some grave concerns about the sustainability of an overtime model in general, but if we were to hire another officer and start the process now, it’s still a 12 to 15 month process to get an officer on,” said Anthony Yorio, a member of the Board of Finance and School Safety and Security Committee.
The hiring process is especially complicated given that New Fairfield’s department is run by state police, Yorio added.
Other towns have been able to hire “school security officers,” typically retired police, as school-year employees instead of hiring “school resource officers,” who become a part of the regular police force during the summer. School security officers cost less, in part because they do not work during the summer.
But these officers, called SSOs, do not hold the extra credentials required by state police, and therefore might not be an option for New Fairfield, members said.
“We have to explore whether state police would allow us to bring SSO into their chain of command,” Yorio said.
He added that having SROs become regular police officers during the summer will also reduce the number of overtime hours available for the force, which New Fairfield officers rely on as part of their income.
The committee has been exploring whether they need to revise the town’s agreement with state police. Members are also finalizing a full report about the audit results to present to the Board of Education.