School resource officers benefit Ridgefield and other schools

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As a former member of Ridgefield’s BOE, it disturbs me how quickly our politicians forget the past. In the days following the Newtown tragedy, my fellow board members and I voted unanimously on a series of security measures, including the addition of two “security resource officers” to protect the children in our care. In Ridgefield, our SROs have a significant and positive relationship with schools. SROs know our students, partner with teachers and families, and provide critical facility security.

Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-page bill, BOM20457, will eliminate this partnership. As a taxpayer, you will no longer get a decision on the staffing mix in your local school. If this bill passes, say goodbye to police managing school traffic at drop off! Say goodbye to DARE! Say goodbye to Officer Luis being a constant presence at RHS!

Instead of leaving local decisions to local representative boards of education, Sen. Murphy’s bill dictates that school districts follow federal guidelines or lose federal funding. He erroneously states that despite crime reduction over the last 10 years, the presence of SROs has not positively impacted those school crime rates at all. In contrast, the presence of SROs is a major component of prevention of criminal activity and identification of at-risk youth. Sen. Murphy’s bill claims that the presence of police in any school has zero value and protects no one, and that these officers provide only negative consequences to students and the community. This is false.

RPS relies on the expertise of our SROs and police department for facility security, drug education, and the creation of early, positive relationships with youth. Our SROs help identify potential areas of concern where law enforcement is uniquely qualified (for instance, illegal substance purchase and use). This bill’s language is explicit that no federal funds can be appropriated for any law enforcement purpose, and that unless the district dissolves all relationships with law enforcement, they are not eligible for funding. Instead, districts would need to rely on “educating teachers and paraprofessionals” or hiring additional “community health workers” or “trauma informed personnel.” These ambiguous roles will be expected to support students without knowing the issues going on outside of schools like trends of drug availability, gangs, or crime sprees.

Over the last few months, we’ve heard the valid outcry of teachers who have been asked to add pandemic practices to their day. Teachers are trained to teach curriculum, not provide mental and behavioral services; this bill will add yet another “expertise” expectation to the teacher. Teachers and administrators will be forced to become experts in facility safety, criminal risk, and even traffic management.

This bill will eliminate local decision rights. It will eliminate the positive and beneficial relationships we have with local law enforcement as well as the benefit of their basic tactical support. We urge you to write Chris Murphy and tell him the federal government should have no control over local decisions. This bill is not good for Ridgefield and not good for Connecticut.

Michael Raduazzo is chairman of the Ridgefield Republican Town Committee, which supplies this column, alternating weekly with the views provided by the Democratic Town Committee.