“06880” reader Phillip Perri writes:
Following Westport superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer’s initiative to place school resource officers in schools, and the subsequent horrific shooting in Florida, some local residents are letting their voices be heard. They say that regardless of which side of the aisle your loyalty rests with, protecting children and school staff in Westport should not be a political decision.
An online petition has been started by myself and Adam Schorr. We contend that the need and time for action is immediate, with no time for debate. Many school districts around the country have already stationed police at or in their schools, as a deterrent.
Security against threats from outside the schools is really only one part of the proposed SRO position, however. SROs are used in many school districts across the country, as well as in our neighboring districts. They are educators; relationship builders between students and the police; active, visible deterrents to the crime, drugs, harassment, bullying and alcohol use that is prevalent and growing in our schools.
The right candidate is trained to be friendly, open and approachable. Westport has long enjoyed the successful DARE program (although not well funded) and the Westport Police Youth Group, run by officers who know our kids from grade school through high school. Think of the SRO as a DARE officer actually stationed at the school, not the fatigue-wearing, machine gun toting SWAT members we see at airports. But make no mistake, in this day and age, his main duty is security, protection, quick action and notification of threat to the police department. When time means lives, every second counts.
According to the group, none would argue the threat is real and urgent. None would say this is a better solution than effective gun control, better funding for school security from the government, better mental health intervention or Congressional action. But no one can also argue that any of these things are going to happen in time to prevent or mitigate the next “professional school shooter” who is out there plotting.
This Monday evening (February 26, 7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria) the Board of Education will hear a report from a team of administrators, district security staff, our police chief and deputy police chief on their investigation into the SRO position in place at nearby schools. It is an excellent opportunity to gain the truth about what the position is and is not, and make up your own mind on the subject.
When asked why the SRO position is so urgently needed and should be expedited to approval, one individual says, “We don’t want to be in a position to have to say we should have.”
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, schools superintendent Colleen Palmer said:
We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, district security staff, both our police chief and deputy chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers.
SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives.
I am a proponent of School Resource Officers in schools, and in fall 2017 I proposed that the district seek to have at least one SRO in place for the 2018-19 school year. At the board meeting on Monday evening, the board will be discussing this topic as one of its first agenda items.