Some Weston Parents Still Have Qualms Over Hiring An SRO

Supt. Colleen Palmer talks to parents at an informal coffee meeting.
Supt. Colleen Palmer talks to parents at an informal coffee meeting.
Despite Police Chief John Troxell's assurances that a school resource officer would not be stationed at Weston High School with the intent of making arrests, some parents attending an informal coffee meeting with Supt. of Schools Colleen Palmer still expressed concerns.

"What are you doing to prevent the criminalization of normal interactions?" one father asked.

Later in the conversation a mother expressed concern that an SRO could overhear students talking about attending a party over the weekend. 

Palmer went on to share her positive experience in having an SRO at Masuk High School when she served as Monroe's superintendent. She told parents how it connected the school with community resources and strengthened bonds of support.

"The officer has to be hand-picked, have interpersonal skills and be someone who loves working with children and adolescents," Palmer said.

She told parents gathered inside the cafeteria of Weston Intermediate School how her administration is working with police on a memorandum of understanding to hammer out how having an SRO would work.

"The Board of Education will have input in the hiring," Palmer said. "No one will be hired if we don't think it's a good match."

The superintendent explained how school administrators would actually have more enforcement power. For instance, the principal can have a locker searched, while a police officer would need a warrant showing cause.

"The SRO is not there to arrest people," Palmer said. "The SROs are there to create relationships. If someone drops a backpack and drugs fall out, we turn them over to the police anyway."

During a joint meeting of the boards of education, finance and selectmen in September, Troxell said he wanted to ease any concerns some parents may have that having a police officer in the high school would lead to a major spike in arrests of town teenagers.

With the exception of serious crimes, he said offenses would be dealt with through juvenile referrals, often to be settled in-house by the student's parents rather than going to juvenile court.

"Our department goes out of its way not to make children into junior criminals," Troxell said. "We're a small-town police department. In no way, shape or form do we see an SRO being here to make a ton of juvenile arrests leading to court and criminal records."

'We Need to Take Care of Our Students'

Palmer said, "We're not out to get kids. That's not what we're about. It's not to punish, it's all about intervention. I believe we have a very strong relationship with our police department and we would be involved in hand-picking our SRO. If it didn't work out, we wouldn't continue it.

"We have some children in our school who are homeless and hungry. Not every kid has a strong advocate like you. We need to take care of our students."

A parent said, "It sounds like an SRO is a social worker with a gun."

"If an SRO thinks a student needs help, we expect the officer to refer them to the right professional," Palmer said. "An SRO is not a social worker or guidance counsellor."

Palmer said an SRO's presence can prevent bad things from happening, but the officer could also participate in class instruction for things like search and seizure and health.

A father said he heard having an SRO in a school leads to more arrests, but Palmer said, "That's not true. If an officer was there to arrest people, we'd be done. It would have to be an emergency situation, if we can't get another officer in."

Another father said, "I would feel safer if someone with a weapon is in the school and can save lives in an emergency." But he added, "I don't want a police state with an officer searching lockers."

At the meeting in September, Troxell said, "The SRO program is not about an officer going through book bags. That's not what this is about."


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