WALLINGFORD — While the town’s school district will beef up its security by adding armed security officers in its schools this fall, the school resource officers who have been assigned to the schools will continue that assignment, adding another layer of security to help avert the tragedies that have become more and more common.
It’s been almost 11 years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School rocked the state, nation and the world, when 20 students and six adult staff members were killed by a lone shooter armed with an assault-style rifle.
School resource officers have become common in schools across the state since then. Police departments assign officers to the schools, where they interact with students and address incidents. The officers are members of the police department and if needed elsewhere can be pulled from that assignment to be placed doing something else.
In recent years those efforts have been supplemented by armed security officers, who also are certified police but are usually retired. Police officers with at least five years of experience also are eligible, but they are not members of the town’s department – they usually are officers who became disenchanted with traditional police work but want to continue to use their skills and certification, Police Chief John Ventura said. Whether retired or not, the officers’ certification must be in good standing, he said.
ASOs will begin work this fall in the town’s schools in addition to the SROs already in place, Ventura said. The ASOs will earn $55,000 for the school year and are paid out of the police department budget, not the school budget. The officers will be trained by the department and use department equipment, he said, and the department will pay to maintain their certification. The officers also will be required to attend state security training in August, Ventura said, and must pass the background check the department requires for any officer.
The department and the school district made the decision to supplement the SRO program with the ASOs because of staffing challenges facing the department, Ventura said. The department is not able to dedicate officers to the schools exclusively because of that, he said, which is why they decided to add the ASOs.
“They’re not full-time SROs,” Ventura said. There are three or four officers that go around to some of the schools as they are able, he said, but the ASOs are dedicated to the schools on a daily basis.
“We are not making any changes to how our current SROs function and where they draw from,” said Sgt. Stephen Jaques, police public information officer. “They handle anything school-related — anything from children smoking marijuana in school or possessing a weapon or emotionally disturbed students — they address those things. That’s our current practice and that practice is not changing.”
“The SROs are not being taken out of the schools. The armed security officers are in addition to the current staffing that we actually have,” he said. “We are not taking away any resources, we are simply throwing more resources at a problem that we see as the security of the schools.”