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Weston police officer requests are on the table

Weston PoliceOne of the more significant requests in the proposed 2013-14 town budget is the Police Department’s request for additional officers.

In its initial budget proposal, the Police Commission asked for three new officers — a 10th officer for general patrol, an 11th officer to cover School Road on a full-time basis, and a school resource officer (SRO) requested on a contingency basis, subject to the Board of Education’s approval.

The selectmen approved one requested officer position, the 10th officer, in its proposed budget. The board did not approve an 11th officer or an SRO. However, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein has said if the school board decides it wants an SRO, that request could be considered in a supplemental appropriation.

That request may come sooner rather than later. The school board is meeting Thursday, March 28, at 7:30 in the Weston Middle School Library Resource Center to discuss and possibly vote on approving an SRO position.

10th officer

Citing the number of calls the department handles every year, the Police Commission requested, and the selectmen support, the addition of a 10th patrol officer.

The department currently has nine patrol officers, three sergeants, one detective, and one chief.

The cost for a new officer is estimated at $69,000 a year ($60,000 base salary plus $9,000 in clothing, equipment and other costs), plus $33,500 per year in benefit costs.

In addition to call volume being an issue, the department has three veteran officers who could retire at any time, which could stretch the department’s manpower because it takes upwards of one year to get a new officer trained and on the road.

Although there is currently no vacancy in the department, the Police Department is conducting an officer search in order to compile a list so that when and if a vacancy occurs the department can act quickly to hire a new officer.

11th officer

The 11th proposed officer would be posted full-time on School Road — also known as The Mile of Safety — for 180 days a year when school is in session. When school isn’t in session the officer would be used for regular police patrol.

Until the Newtown school tragedy on Dec. 14, the Police Department covered School Road six hours a day — three hours in the morning, and three hours later in the afternoon, with a three-hour gap in between. The department splits the costs for coverage with the schools.

After the Newtown shootings, Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer requested police presence on School Road for the entire school day. School Road is now covered an additional three hours a day, causing a considerable increase in police overtime costs.

On March 15, Dr. Palmer notified the finance board that the schools may need to seek a supplemental appropriation up to $85,000 to cover School Road overtime costs for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Following Newtown, school districts have become more aware of police response time and how long it takes an officer to assist with an intruder at the schools, Dr. Palmer said.

Depending on the day and circumstances, Dr. Palmer said, police response time to the schools could exceed 10 minutes, depending on where the officers were in town. In Newtown, she said, police response time to the school’s 911 call on Dec. 14 was three minutes.

To ensure school safety with a quick police response time, Dr. Palmer wants a full-time police presence on School Road when school is in session. “Weston police officers remain a visible presence on School Road during school hours, each and every school day, serving as a powerful deterrent to any intruder or threat,” Dr. Palmer said.

After the selectmen declined to put the 11th officer in the proposed town budget, Police Chief John Troxell and Sgt. Mike Ferullo presented their case for the position to the finance board directly on March 11.

They said having a 10th and 11th officer in the patrol rotation would help mitigate overtime the department is currently incurring because an officer could be used at straight time to fill a shift rather than at overtime.

SRO

In its initial budget request, the Police Commission requested a full-time school resource officer (SRO) to be assigned to the schools.

The SRO program is intended to provide a safe environment at school and to foster positive relationships between police and those at the school, particularly the students.

The SRO would be a fully certified police officer whose primary role is to protect the students and staff of the school from dangerous persons and situations, and to serve as a resource regarding matters of law and public safety.

While the idea of having an SRO has been under consideration by the Police Commission for the past few years, in November the school board’s policy committee first started investigating SROs to determine if one would be effective and appropriate for Weston schools.

Committee members visited area school districts with an SRO, such as Darien, and also obtained SRO job descriptions from a number of school districts to review the kinds of things an SRO does.

SROs generally enhance security by developing close contact with students and school personnel and by becoming an integral part of the school community.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, the committee will present its SRO findings to the entire board, and possibly vote on whether it wants to hire an SRO.

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