School resource officers working out nicely, officials say

School resource officers (SROs) are settling in nicely in the city schools, according to program supervisor Sgt. Tony Vitti.

The uniformed and armed officers have been in place in the schools about a month.

There is an officer at Foran High School and one at Jonathan Law High School.

Another officer splits time between East Shore and Harborside middle schools and the fourth splits time between West Shore Middle School and the Academy.

There is also a substitute school resource officer.

Officer William Lugo is working at Foran; Officer James Kiely at Law; Officer Emily Mills is at East Shore and Harborside, and Officer Garon DelMonte is at West Shore Middle School and The Academy.

Officer Michael DeVito is the substitute school resource officer.

“The school staff and students have been very receptive,” Vitti said. “The Board of Education and the police department are committed to this collaborative effort.”

James Richetelli Jr., chief operations officer for the school district, also said the officers are working out well.

“The SROs have been welcomed with open arms into our school community by administrators, teachers, staff, parents and most importantly, the students,” Richetelli said. “Their impact on enhancing an environment that is inviting, supportive and safe has been felt immediately. We are grateful to them and to the community for supporting the SRO program.”

The plan to hire school resource officers came up shortly after the tragic shootings in Newtown and then became the focus of attention during the 2013-14 budget process.

The school resource officer plan added about $300,000 in expenses to the city/school spending plan. The school board allocated $150,000 for half the cost and the city budget covered the other half.

The Board of Education voted to use savings realized in the energy accounts  from the 2012/2013 budget to fund the first year commitment to the SRO program.

“In effect, on June 30, 2013 we allowed $150,000 that was not used for energy to ‘lapse’ back to the city,” Richetelli said. “The city then applied it to the SRO program for the 2013/2014 fiscal year.”

For next school year, the Board of Education has included $159,000 for the officers in its proposed budget. If the budget is approved, the city will bill the schools and the schools will cut a check back to the city.

As this is the first year the officers are in the schools, modifications are expected over time.

“As the program progresses, we are all open to new ideas and approaches,” Vitti said. “As the SRO program is in its infancy — and as we do any other program — we are always looking to improve and as such, changes will be made only in the best interest of the children.”

The school resource officers’ duties will be to act as law enforcement officers, law related counselors and law related educators. They will provide social and community policing services at the schools, officials said.

“During the summer it will be the chief's prerogative to utilize the officers to enhance the patrol division and/or supplement special events,” Vitti added. “They will continually conduct school assessments to enhance the security to all of the schools, as well.”

Although the officers work inside the schools, they are police department employees.