EAST HAVEN, Conn. -- As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and with the implementation of a new program, the Police Department is ensuring it's part of that process.
Mayor Joseph Maturo's office Wednesday announced a "School Liaison Officer Program," in which an officer will be assigned to a local school and the surrounding neighborhood, similar to a traditional community policing program.
Maturo said that although the town has its own defined neighborhoods, Chief Brent Larrabee says they don't lend themselves to what would constitute traditional neighborhood and community policing. Because the schools are neighborhood schools and embedded in their own parts of town, the schools will act as the focal points for individual communities.
"This new program serves several important goals," Maturo said. "First, it enhances school security by making our schools regular patrol points for officers. Second, it will help open up a dialogue among officers, school administrators, teachers and students about general town education issues. Third, and most importantly, it will provide students with another trustworthy resource from which they can regularly seek guidance."
Larrabee explained that officers already are assigned to patrol certain areas of town, so there are no additional costs associated with the program. The officers will make regular appearances at the assigned school during normal patrols. They will handle incidents that occur at that school while on duty. If an incident happens in that officer's area while he or she is off-duty, other officers will let them know. Larrabee said it's a way for the officer to communicate his or her knowledge of what goes on in the neighborhood regarding students with the administrators.
"So many times, problems at home manifest themselves in school. These kids, if they're in an environment where it's not a healthy environment, or something happens, it can be reported to the neighborhood officer who can let the school officials know," Larrabee said.
The goal is to keep open the communication between agencies in town to benefit the neighborhoods and students, Larrabee said.
The officers will become familiar faces because they routinely drop by the schools and have conversations with students, he said.
"So often, students don't know where to turn for help. As students develop relationships with their school officers, we expect officers will become aware of out-of-school issues as well," Larrabee said. "School liaison officers will also be responsible for appropriately addressing and reporting these issues."
Larrabee said that "for whatever reason" this type of policing wasn't done in the past, but when the idea was broached, both the town and superintendent were enthusiastic about implementing it.
The Police Department is involved in implementing a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, mandating it develop a robust community policing program.
The Pathways school will be visited by Officer Dave Olson; Deer Run and Ferrara Schools will be visited by Officer Justin Brochu; East Haven High School will be visited by Officer Shawn Hatchel; Joseph Melillo Middle School will be visited by Officer Shirley Conyers; Tuttle School will be visited by Officer Joseph Finoia; and Momauguin School will be visited by Officer Dave Torello.
Torell also is the DARE officer for the fifth grade throughout the town's schools.
After a three-year hiatus of the program, Maturo arranged to bring back a DARE officer in schools this year. School Superintendent Anthony Serio said students were extremely receptive to it -- and the success of the program lent itself to the creation of this new program.
"We didn't want to have a complete police presence in schools, but we did want to have more than what we have now, and just try to have a balance," Serio said. "All of the town's resources are working together to let kids and the teachers and the administrators know that we're all in this together, and we're all concerned about school safety. We want to let them know that if there's a problem, that there's someone they can talk to."
Board of Education Chairman Tom Hennessey lauded the new program, and said he was looking forward to learning more and seeing it implemented.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Ron DeNuzzo, who is also an investigator for the Litchfield state attorney's office and serves as the chair of the policy and bylaws committee, said the district began reviewing security policies in the wake of the Newtown shootings by meeting with administrators to get feedback. DeNuzzo has asked legislators if any security measures they enforce may be reimbursable, or if there are federal funds available for some initiatives.
DeNuzzo said upgrades have been made to add extra security personnel, buzzers and intercom systems. Some schools altered policies only allowing egress from one entrance. Photo IDs are also needed to enter some schools.
Serio said the district is reviewing its crisis intervention plans, as well, but stressed that prior to the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, East Haven already had robust security measures.
"Our schools are really in a modified lockdown every day -- all our doors are secured, there's no way of getting in the building without camera surveillance and a buzzer system to get in the front door," he said. "We just want to improve on what we have and we're in pretty good shape as far as what we have done already."
Copyright 2013 - New Haven Register, Conn.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service