Police chief says SROs will be in schools by February of 2014

A compromise plan to hire school resource officers seemed to sway some aldermen as they were asked to vote on a 2013-14 budget. But in the end, the resource officer plan put forward by the police chief was adopted.

The aldermen voted last Thursday to add four new police positions to the budget, at $58,728 each plus benefits, which will vary depending on the number of dependents the new officers have.

The additional positions will allow police Chief Keith Mello to place four school resource officers in the schools next year. An SRO will be assigned to each high school under Mello's plan. The other two officers will be assigned to the three middle schools and will have responsibilities at the elementary schools.

During budget deliberations, Alderman Robert Nunno (D) came out strongly against the plan, saying it was too expensive and could be done just as well for a lot less.

The four officers, with benefits, are expected to cost $300,000. The Board of Education has earmarked $150,000 to pay half the cost, and the city will come up with the rest.

Nunno described an SRO program in North Branford, where he said school officials hired retired or former police officers to work as SROs. They make $20 an hour and don’t get benefits, Nunno said.

Based on those salaries, Nunno said, Milford could hire five SROs — one for each high school and middle school — and the cost would be about $145,000.

“I don’t want our schools to look like prisons,” said Nunno, who is a music teacher at West Shore Middle School. He doesn’t like the idea of a police cruiser parked in front of the school every day. He said retired officers would drive their own cars, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

He also said that he hasn’t heard from constituents about the SROs, and he thought that was unusual.

Alderman Paula Smith (R) said she was interested in Nunno’s idea but wished he had presented it sooner, calling it the “12th hour” because he presented it the night of the budget vote.

Alderman Frank Smith (D) said he thought it was as good a time as any to debate the matter, and he said he shared some of Nunno’s misgivings. Frank Smith said he also had some misgivings about civil liberty issues associated with having police in the schools.

Ray Vitali (R), a retired middle school principal, has said he doesn’t like the idea of hiring only four SROs, especially since he thinks each middle school needs its own officer. He suggested the city look at a combination of both programs: using full-fledged officers and retired officers.

Vitali insisted that the matter really needed to be debated more among the aldermen. Paula Smith and Chairman Phillip Vetro (D) got into an argument about Mello’s appearance at an earlier meeting. Paula Smith said she thought Mello was going to be on the agenda to speak and was critical that he merely spoke under a section of the agenda called “chairman’s report.”

Vetro said the chief had already made a lengthy presentation at a Board of Education meeting, which the aldermen were invited to attend.

The SRO’s will be selected from the existing ranks.

“We want experienced, energetic officers, who have a strong desire to work with kids in a non-traditional law enforcement role,” Mello said. “Not every police officer will make a good SRO. It takes an individual with a unique skill set.”

The SRO’s will be selected in consultation with representatives from the school district. Selection will begin within the next few months, followed by the basic SRO training course, Mello said.

The SRO’s will then undergo additional training in a number of specified areas, relative to juvenile related issues. Mello said the training they receive is only available to sworn law enforcement officers.

“We are currently conducting background investigations on a number of police recruit applicants, who will begin their seven month recruit training in August,” Mello said. “These new officers will replace those offices who are selected to become SROs. We anticipate having trained sworn SROs in the schools by February, 2014.”