At a joint special meeting with the Board of Education on Tuesday, the Town Council unanimously voted to authorize increasing the Farmington Police Department's staff from 28 to 29 positions to make that happen.
“The [police] chief and I strongly support this request," Farmington Town Manager Kathy Eagen said.A current Farmington police officer, undetermined at this time, will take on the role of school resource officer. The department would hire another patrol officer at an entry level salary to fill that vacated slot. The new position was not previously included in the approved 2013-14 budget that passed at referendum.
“There is a very good chance we’ll come back and ask for a portion of that salary to be added into budget," Eagen said, though town officials will look to use savings in the current budget first before appropriating the new patrol officer's salary.
The hope is to select the school resource officer by the end of August.
Joanna Blumetti currently serves as a youth officer stationed at Farmington High School and Stan Lada is the school resource officer for the elementary, upper elementary and middle schools.
The second school resource officer would split coverage of the other six schools with Lada, each focusing on three.
“We wanted to make sure we had an officer on one side of the town that could work with those three schools and an officer on the other side of town to work with those three schools," Farmington Superintendent Kathy Grieder said.The school resource officer is one of many recommendations in a recent evaluation of the district's security and safety, including seven new school monitors.
“I think we’re doing what’s proper, what’s logical," Councilman CJ Thomas said, adding that the school resource officer is there for the students and is more than a "guard at the door who scares away a potential threat."
Board of Education Chairperson Mary Grace Reed said that school resource officers are also trained to "find the isolated child," which she said historically reduces criminal incidents in communities dramatically. While staff members are not trained in "profile identification," she said police officers are.
"They will be looking for those young people long before these issues happen," Reed said.
While crime prevention and safety are certainly in the job description of a school resource officer, they are also educators and liaisons to the district, Farmington police Lt. Marshall Porter said.
The officers teach classes and form bonds with students, acquainting them with "who they are" and "how they look" so students get used to them earlier on, according to Reed.
Councilwoman Amy Suffredini, who has younger children, said that the officers who visit the schools become role model figures for kids.
“These are friendly faces they see," she said.
Town Council Chairman Jeffrey Hogan said that “when school isn’t in session, these officers are used for special projects."
For example, Farmington police were needed to patrol Rails to Trails and the Farmington River front after incidents this summer, Porter said. The school resource officers also can do patrol when officers are sick or on vacation in the off days.
Hogan – who used to be a police officer, responded to Ground Zero on 9/11 and has a son involved in law enforcement – said "we've struck a good balance with these recommendations."
“I don’t think we’ve created a police state in our schools at all," Hogan said.