The Board of Education codified the School Resource Officer program Monday, approving an official policy regarding the SRO's placement in New Canaan High School.
There's been a New Canaan Police officer assigned to the high school for the last three years (and for some of that time there was also a part-time officer at Saxe), but until now the board's policies have not reflected that.
The new policy outlines the SRO's role first and foremost in promoting a positive relationship between students and law enforcement by fostering programs and activities, like the Police Club, to improve students' knowledge of and respect for the law.
Toward that end, according to Police Department statistics, Officer Ron Bentley helped teach 16 classes and attended 167 student conferences and meetings between September and December of last year.
In addition to being on campus every school day, the policy encourages the SRO to go to school-sponsored events and activities after the bell rings—Bentley was at 45 events during the fall semester.
The SRO is also tasked with helping school personnel prevent and detect, "potentially unlawful acts" and identify at-risk students. Bentley investigated 18 complaints this fall. And it's the SRO's responsibility to help provide crisis management and security training to school staff.
Initially the SRO policy was proposed as a revision of the existing "Police in the Schools" policy which deals with what happens when a crime is suspected or a dangerous situation arises involving students at school. But school administrators and board members did not want the SRO's law enforcement duties to interfere with his ability to be a resource and confidante for students.
"The SRO has a unique role in the schools—the SRO is different than an investigator," NCHS Assistant Principal Ari Rothman said during the Feb. 8 board meeting. If every time the SRO entered a classroom or a police club meeting or was approached by a student that conversation was recorded as evidence, he said, "communication wouldn't flow."
So instead the new policy says that if an SRO becomes involved in an investigation that includes talking to students, then he has to identify himself as a police officer and follow the procedures laid out in the separate "Police in the Schools" policy, which the board plans to revise at a later date.
"The relationship between a school resource officer and a school is one that is clearly defined in practice," Rothman said. "In the event of anything deemed as a crime or a dangerous situation, his role is as a police officer."