Woodbridge school resource officers
WOODBRIDGE >> The Board of Police Commissioners have voted to keep Resource Officer Vincent Lynch at Beecher Road School, at least until the end of the school year.
Parents had packed a special meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners recently to plead the case for keeping an officer at the school, after Lynch’s redeployment was considered to fill a police officer shortage.
After the end of the school year, it will be up to the Board of Education to fund the position.
Lynch’s assignment at the school was called into question recently when officers spoke at a police board meeting to say a staff shortage in patrol was putting the public and themselves in peril.
Parents at Beecher Road School bristled at the suggestion that Lynch be redeployed, using words such as “mind boggling” and “ridiculous.”
Many said they were outraged when Board of Finance Chairman Matthew Giglietti at an earlier meeting not only questioned the need for an officer, since building security has been bolstered like a “fortress,” but also appeared to insult Lynch by saying at a meeting, “Honestly, I don’t know what he does all day long,” according to a recording of the meeting.
Giglietti seemed to contradict himself, however, when he went on to say, “It’s an awfully big building for one guy to patrol anyway.”
Resident Dan Esposito, who has children at the school, said at the special meeting the only thing that could have spared victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2014 was “someone shooting back.” He said physical security improvements at Beecher are no match for a machine gun.
“If we have someone with a machine gun breaking through the front doors, I’m glad Vin is there to protect our kids,” Esposito said.
He said there are “other ways” to save money in the budget. Esposito said Woodbridge has a nearly $5 million undesignated fund balance and spent $7 million to acquire a golf course, so certainly it can find the money for an officer at Beecher.
Parent Bob McSherry said his son “liked Vinnie (Lynch) more than pizza,” which drew a chuckle. McSherry quickly changed his tune to anger at Giglietti’s comments and said parents should remember what he said at election time.
Parents not only spoke of security, including the deterrent effect of a police officer, but also about the kind of positive role model Lynch is for children, especially when officers are under fire in society.
Parents said Lynch talks to children all day, does special lessons in classrooms, checks doors and runs the DARE program, which has benefited countless children.
Parent Ed Martocchio said there is “no substitute” for a law enforcement officer at the school and if there had been an officer at Sandy Hook when Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six staff members, the outcome may have been different.
The Board of Finance has called for $250,000 to be cut from a $3 million budget, said police board Chairman Robert Berke. The department has four open positions and can fill two immediately, Berke said, which is why redeployment of Lynch was considered.
Instead, after the outpouring from parents, and school and town officials, it was decided after an executive, or closed, session, that an officer on assignment with the drug enforcement task force would return, and the search would begin immediately for a certified officer from another municipality. The other two positions will be filled by officers in training.
Commissioners decided the funding for Lynch will remain for the rest of the school year in the Police Department budget, but that his continued placement next year would have to be funded through the Beecher Road School budget.
The Amity Regional High School resource officer position, held by Officer Scott Prentice, will also be funded beginning next year by Amity, rather than the Police Department. Amity is funded by Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge.
Giglietti also said at that earlier Board of Finance meeting that Orange doesn’t have a police officer stationed at any of its four schools.
Aside from parents, others who spoke in favor of having a resource officer remain at Beecher included Deputy First Selectwoman Beth Heller, Superintendent of Schools Robert Gilbert, Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Hamilton and Fire Chief Sean Rowland.
All spoke of the need to balance the safety needs of the community and its officers with that of the children, but “in a world of uncertainty and fear,” parents and children need to know the schools are safe, Heller said.
Rowland said that “with all that’s going on in the world today,” having Lynch stationed at the school gives more “peace of mind,” than dialing 911.
Lauren Esposito, wife of Dan Esposito, said it’s better to be proactive and preventive than to have a “tragic incident” take place, prompting reinstatement of an officer at the school.
“My children look up to him,” she said. “I love pulling up to the school and seeing the police car.”