MERIDEN — Mayor Kevin Scarpati is criticizing the city manager and police chief for not moving faster to restore school resource officer positions at the city’s two middle schools.
Prior to Tuesday’s City Council Finance Committee meeting, Scarpati said he isn’t happy with a plan to reinstate the positions next month. The SROs were eliminated on Sept. 15
“I think staff and administration should have handled this sooner,” Scarpati said. “When you’re dealing with school security, I don’t think it can be handled fast enough.”
City Manager Tim Coon, who started Sept. 4, said Wednesday that he and Police Chief Jeffry Cossette consider reinstating the officers a priority, and are “moving as quickly as we can. Only certain officers have the necessary training to take on SRO shifts, Coon added.
One of the department’s SROs assigned to Platt High School was recently out on injury, complicated scheduling for Cossette, according to Coon. Cossette wasn’t available to comment Wednesday.
"We're in agreement that getting the SROs back is a priority, and we'll do what we need to do to get that to happen," Coon said on Sept. 27 shortly after speaking with Cossette.
Coon and Cossette agreed last month to reinstate the resource officers in early November if the department is able to realize enough savings in its overtime account to cover the cost for the positions, estimated at $60,000 by Coon.
The positions were eliminated by Cossette after a budget referendum this summer prompted the City Council to make cuts to all city departments. Some councilors said they felt Cossette could have made cuts elsewhere, while Cossette defended the decision, saying the council forced him to eliminate the positions by cutting his budget substantially.
Scarpati initially wanted to transfer money from the city’s contingency account to reinstate the positions but pulled back because he didn’t have enough support from councilors.
Meriden's SRO program started in 1998. Scarpati said while schools are not unsafe without SROs, the officers "add another element of safety." In addition to providing security, resource officers are also responsible for building rapport with students and families to address issues early on.
Cossette said the cuts councilors and Scarpati made to his budget after the referendum also required him to eliminate the department’s entire 12-member neighborhood initiative unit and an SRO assigned to the elementary schools. Those officers were moved back to patrol to cut down on overtime costs.