Threat assessment professional and school resource officer will help explain SRO program

A threat assessment professional and a school resource officer from another town will attend the April 30 school board meeting to share information about a possible school resource officer program in Milford.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Milford City Hall.

City and school officials have said they want to hire four school resource officers to work in Milford’s schools. The mayor, police chief and Board of Education members have been discussing funding, but so far there isn’t any solid plan for paying the estimated $300,000 cost of the program.

Tracy Casey, school board chairman, thinks the board will be asked to pay half the cost. Police Chief Keith Mello has identified about $100,000 in his budget, or through new programs, that he said could pay for the SROs.

Tuesday’s meeting is meant to provide information to school board members and Milford aldermen, assuming they will be asked to vote on funding for the officers. The program is also meant to answer parents’ and other residents’ questions about SROs.

Although residents and parents have not spoken much at public meetings about SROs, Chief Mello said he believes parents favor the program.

“Shortly after the tragedy in Newtown, Milford, like so many other communities in this state and across the nation, assigned uniformed police officers to protect our students while in school,” Mello said. “Hundreds of parents sent us emails, made phone calls or approached the officers, thanking them for being there to keep their children safe and commenting on how the officers’ presence gave them comfort.

“Parents let us know that they wanted the police to maintain a presence at their schools. When we reduced that presence we again heard from parents who told us that they wanted us to return,” Mello added. “I told those parents that we are committed to the development of a comprehensive security plan for our schools and that the school resource officers were a key component to that plan.”

The chief said he believes that SROs are important to maintaining school safety, and he said people need to understand exactly what an SRO is.

According to a report on school resource officers that Mello provided, communities nationwide have been placing sworn law enforcement officers in schools on a full-time basis for the past two decades.

“The [SRO] plan should provide a strong security component in addition to encompassing other law enforcement services that are aimed at students of various ages,” the report states. “The security aspect will include infrastructure security issues, as well as the development and the maintenance of critical incident planning and protocols.”

School resource officers also serve as mentors, liaisons to the school and community, anti-bullying and drug and alcohol educators, safety experts, deterrents to crime and assistants with visitor control within the facility and taking action against unauthorized persons on school property.

“A school resource officer (SRO) is a certified law enforcement officer who is permanently assigned to provide preventive, reactive and informational law enforcement services to a school or a set of schools,” Mello’s report states. “The SRO is not a security guard or a police officer who has been placed temporarily in a school in response to a crisis situation but rather acts as a comprehensive sustainable resource for his/her school.

“While a uniformed, well trained, well equipped police officer is our best defense against a violent incident at the schools, their role is primarily focused on prevention and education,” the chief’s report continues. “They are trained to practice early intervention techniques that seek to identify those behaviors that can manifest into violence or delinquency. Prevention that can be accomplished by creating partnerships with school staff and relationships with students is of great importance. Intervention that can prevent a student from having to experience a traditional law enforcement response best serves the student, the family and the community.”

Twenty years ago SROs were placed in schools to primarily reduce violence and prevent students from bringing illegal drugs and weapons to school. Today, the SRO model focuses on involvement in the lives of the students and provides a mechanism for collaborative intervention when there are concerns or problems, the report states.

“The resulting impact when an SRO is present in a school is that our educators, support staff and students will feel safer, will be safer and will be better prepared to manage the unlikelihood of a threat to their schools,” Mello said. “Fear reduction and preparedness are crucial to a productive and comfortable learning environment.”

In addition to talking about the role of an SRO at Tuesday’s meeting, Mello will present S. David Bernstein, a clinical forensic psychologist who specializes in adult, corporate, and pediatric forensic psychology.

Dr. Bernstein lead training lectures for the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council and the School Threat Assessment and Response System project. He is an expert in threat assessment, corporate risk management, and deceit detection.

Bernstein was part of a group of dangerousness experts invited to participate in a think tank for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Center for Disease Control that resulted in a national publication on workplace violence.

He has performed hundreds of threat assessments and training workshops for corporations throughout the United States. He is frequently sought to consult with human resource managers and corporate counsel on matters of workplace violence and corporate risk management.

In addition to Bernstein, a school resource officer from another community will attend Tuesday’s meeting to speak to the group about the day to day duties and experiences of an SRO.

“Parents will have the opportunity to learn more about the program and hopefully many of their questions will be answered,” Mello said.