School security task force says a second SRO is needed

For many recent graduates of American high schools, school resource officers are as normal as textbooks and guidance counselors. Armed police officers work a beat in many schools across the country, where they are responsible for more than simple law-enforcement duties.

Currently, Wilton schools are the responsibility of one school resource officer, Officer Rich Ross.

However, according to the Wilton School Security Task Force, one officer may not be enough.

“The Wilton Security Task Force has indicated that we believe a second SRO is needed,” task force chairman and Second Selectman Hal Clark told The Bulletin in an email last week.

A problem with adding a second officer, he indicated, is that the position must have a job description written and provided by the Police Commission. This, he said, is currently being “worked on.”

Wilton’s police budget provides funding for 44 officers, though the town only has 42 officers on staff, including officers in training. Two patrol officers will be hired in the near future to fill those empty spots, police Chief Michael Lombardo said on Tuesday. Before a new SRO could be assigned, an additional police officer would have to be allocated to the police budget, giving the department 45 total officers, the chief said.

“The funding has to be approved by the town,” he said. “Anytime there is a head count issue, it’s a concern of the town. We fully understand that, and we don’t take it lightly. We’ve studied this hard, and this is something we believe we need.”

Chief Lombardo did not specify when such funding might be requested, and he also said he would assign any new SRO from within the department after an interview of all interested officers. They would also be required to go through an SRO training program before beginning their assignment.

Why a new SRO?

The chief said he agrees with the School Security Task Force’s suggestion to hire a new SRO. With 4,600 students and 800 staff members in the Wilton school system, the chief said, it’s “nearly impossible to be a presence and a faculty member in every school facility [because] there is a lot of work that goes into a successful SRO program. It’s much more involved than just crime prevention.”

According to a report published by Johns Hopkins University, a school resource officer has two responsibilities beyond in-school law enforcement.

An SRO is “a sworn officer assigned to a school on a long-term basis trained to perform three major roles: law enforcement officer, law-related counselor and law-related educator,” the publication says.

An important note, the university publication says, is that an SRO is not a school disciplinarian, as an SRO is not tasked with handling minor rules violations.

The chief said an additional Wilton SRO would be required to be “available to build relationships between students and officers, adding an extra layer of protection for students and faculty.”

Effectiveness of SROs

Since December 2012 the issue of resource officers has been examined by town officials with ever-increasing detail. However, limited research exists on the effectiveness of school resource officers in increasing school safety.

A congressional report on the subject cites a publication titled Assigning Police Officers to Schools, which succinctly describes the relative lack of information.

“Studies of SRO effectiveness that have measured actual safety outcomes have mixed results. Some show an improvement in safety and a reduction in crime; others show no change,” the publication reads.