West Haven police pull school resource officer over staffing shortage
The police department, fighting a chronic staffing shortage, has pulled one of the school resource officers out of Harry W. Bailey Middle School.
The department will replace longtime SRO Doug Bauman — who will return to the Patrol Division — with one of what previously were two “floating” SROs to serve all six elementary schools, officials said Monday.
For the immediate future, the six elementary schools — Forest, Seth G. Haley, Edith E. Mackrille, Alma E. Pagels, Savin Rock and Washington — will share one SRO, supplemented by periodic visits by patrol officers during the day, said Deputy Chief of Police Joseph Perno.
West Haven High School and Bailey each will continue to have two SROs and May V. Carrigan Intermediate School will continue to have one, Perno said.
The changes went into effect as part of the periodic schedule change that takes place at the WHPD every eight weeks, Perno said.
No one is happy about it — not Perno, not Superintendent of School Neil Cavallaro and not parents of kids in school.
“You’ve got to understand, you’ve got six elementary schools,” said Carrie Malangone, president of the West Haven PTA Council, which oversees the PTAs at all nine schools.
“God forbid, if anything ever happens, how fast is that officer going to be able to make it across town from one school to another?” asked Malangone, who also is president of the Parent, Teacher & Students Association, or PTSA, at Bailey and the Forest School Parent-Teacher Association, or PTA.
“One floater for six elementaries, that’s a little tough,” she said.
Perno, who made the decision, said it bothers him, too.
“I’m upset about it. I’m sure there are others that are just as upset about it,” Perno said. “But it’s the staffing.”
Perno said that in his estimation, the number of SROs previously in the schools wasn’t enough, either. But he also believes “it was costing too much in overtime” to maintain that level of staffing.
So at a time when the department is down considerably from its full, budgeted strength of 120 — currently at 107 and expected to be down to about 103 by the end of the month — he reluctantly reduced it by one.
“It was something that I did not want to do,” Perno said. “It was something I had to do — and I probably will have to do more.”
SRO Kim DeMayo, who previously was one of the elementary school “floaters,” will replace Bauman at Bailey, joining SRO Chris Cinque, he said.
Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro said that if the situation remains that way for long, he and other school officials will look at the possibility of hiring additional private security officers.
“Assistant Chief Perno called me and explained the situation” and assured him that any problems related to the loss of one school resource officer “would be made up by extra patrols” during the day.
The Board of Education pays 80 percent of the salaries for school resource officers.
Malangone said that in addition to the loss at the elementary school level, Bailey students, parents and staff will miss Bauman.
“Kim, she’s a very good officer. But Bauman had already kind of planted his feet into the ground,” Malangone said. “All the kids know him. ... Bauman had a relationship with a lot of these kids.
“I think he built a very strong rapport with them” and was consequently able to defuse and avoid problems that might otherwise have arisen, she said.
Aprile Johnson, the mother of eighth-grade twins at Bailey and one of the school’s PTSA vice presidents, said that with fewer staff, she was concerned DeMayo might be relied on to continue working at the elementaries in addition to working at Bailey.
At Bailey, “with 1,000 teenagers in one building, you need two SRO officers” full-time, Johnson said.
“Bailey and West Haven (High) completely need two armed cops at all times,” she said.
West Haven’s manpower shortages comes nearly 10 years after the city, as the result of an arbitration award, switched the Police Department from a chronically-underfunded traditional pension plan to a 401(k).
Police of late have been pushing the city to switch back, saying the switch was a bad deal that has caused experienced cops to retire or take their experience to other departments — and has resulted in newly-recruited officers coming in, getting trained and then moving on.
In the years since the change, which took place in 2009 when John Picard was mayor, not having a pension plan — coupled with comparatively low pay — has turned West Haven from a respected police department that officers aspired to come to the equivalent of a minor league farm team, police brass, rank-and-file officers and union officials say.
Today’s WHPD is a place where new officers get hired and get trained — at a cost of $70,130 per recruit before they go out on the street — then take their experience somewhere else, cops have said.