Westport superintendent recommends getting school resource officer
WESTPORT — Fairfield has a school resource officer; Wilton has a school resource officer; Weston has a school resource officer; Norwalk has a school resource officer — Westport does not.
In fact, Westport is the only district in its District Reference Group without a school-based law enforcement officer, but that may soon change.
Superintendent Colleen Palmer introduced the idea of an SRO at the Monday meeting of the Board of Education, leading an introductory conversation on the topic, adding that Police Chief Foti Koskinas is “enthusiastically endorsing” the potential institution of the position for next fall.
“Just the presence of an SRO is a deterrent to anyone on the outside who would even think about creating harm,” Palmer said.
The SRO, according to Palmer, would likely be based at Staples High School and would serve less in the capacity of warding off illegal activity — of which Palmer said there has been little during her time at the school — and more to build bonds with students and undergo preventative intervention with at-risk students.
She added that at the secondary level, the officer is not normally dealing with threats from the outside, but preventing problems inside the school.
“An SRO attends many school functions and really becomes part of the school community,” Palmer said. The officer, according to Palmer, would operate in tandem with, but not oversee, the school’s security personnel.
The introduction of an SRO does have some possible drawbacks.
The SRO would be taking the place of the district’s D.A.R.E. officer that works away from the high school. Palmer said the district would work to maintain the most successful aspects of the D.A.R.E. program while still transitioning to the SRO.
Board members questioned the necessity of an SRO and expressed concern about the safety of having a single armed officer at the school.
“I’m curious. Is there anything that’s happened in your tenure that brought this to mind, prompted you to want it, or is it just because you had it before?” asked Board of Education member Candi Savin.
In Weston, where Palmer was superintendent before coming to Westport, the district hired an SRO following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
Vik Muktavaram, another school board member, questioned why, if a police car parked outside is a deterrent, should the SRO be stationed at Staples, as opposed to any of the other schools in the district. Palmer responded that she was inclined to station the SRO near the high school because it is those students that tend to engage in more risky behaviors.
Karen Kleine expressed concern at the idea of an officer with a holstered gun in a Westport school and questioned whether that was a necessity.
“That scares the Jesus out of me,” the school board member said, asking whether or not a Taser could replace a loaded gun.
“I’ve never heard of a police chief that would allow an officer to be on active duty and not be fully equipped to respond,” Palmer said. “I think the police chief could better describe how nobody is going to pull a gun out of anyone’s holster.”
The board will continue to consider the proposal and will hear from the police chief at a future meeting as Koskinas could not attend on Monday.