Hamden Mayor Curt B. Leng’s proposed town budget drew community attention and criticism for a line item that creates positions for two School Resource Officers — sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools — in Hamden elementary schools.
The proposed budget of $236 million was submitted to the city’s legislative council on March 18. Early last week, Hamden’s Progressive Action Network started a community petition — addressed to Leng — that asks the mayor to reconsider his proposal for implementing School Resource Officers in Hamden’s eight elementary schools. As of 8 p.m. on Monday, the petition had 252 signatures on Change.org.
“When you have a police officer that is available at a school all the time, then they are involved in these everyday, typical disciplinary measures that happen in elementary schools. It’s not necessary to bring an officer into those situations,” Jen Pope, founder of Hamden’s Progressive Action Network, told the News. “Even if that’s not the intention of the role, they’re there and it happens.”
Pope told the News that several members of the 15-member Hamden legislative council have already signed the petition. Pope said that she will present the signatures at a town budget public hearing on April 2 and provide a list of all of the signatories to the legislative council.
Creation of the two School Resource Officer positions in Hamden elementary schools would expand the SRO program, which already exists in Hamden middle and high schools. According to the Hamden Police Department website, the Police Department Special Victims Unit has an officer assigned to the Hamden Middle School and another to the Hamden High School.
The officers are tasked with “working closely with the faculty and administrators at each school and maintain[ing] a positive presence with the students,” according to the Hamden Police Department website.
Hamden council member Justin Farmer told the News that while he is not in charge of the decision to implement officers in the school, he hopes the funds will be allocated to programs such as special education-resourcing, community outreach and school psychologists instead.
“In my capacity as a community leader, we talk about the disparate impact that people of color, people with disabilities happen to have with law enforcement in general — but when we look at schools, our kids of color, kids with disabilities, are disproportionately affected by having officers in our schools,” Farmer told the News.
Hamden Superintendent of Schools Judy Goeler echoed Farmer’s statements, noting that while he believes SROs have the opportunity to build trusting and constructive relationships with students and staff, with limited resources, there is a greater need for mental health staff who can provide clinical services to students who come to school impacted by trauma or other significant mental health disorders.
The letter written for the petition raises a plethora of concerns — including that police officers in schools have not been shown to make students safer and that police presence in schools increases the risk of punitive disciplinary approaches such as arrests. The petition argues that using the funding differently — by adding teachers, therapists, school psychologists or social workers — could provide a greater benefit to the young students of Hamden.
“We respectfully request that you reconsider your position, which we do not believe is in the best interest of the students of Hamden, and which we believe is likely to bring harm to some of our most vulnerable students,” the petition reads.
Goeler said that he does not believe that Leng’s proposal for SROs will be implemented since the Board of Education did not propose this initiative in its budget. However, he is pleased to know that there are community members committed to ensuring that the public schools have the correct resources to meet the needs of Hamden’s “very diverse student body.”
Pope said that Hamden’s Progressive Action Network is working to ensure that Hamden residents know how the budget process works, and that community voices are heard in the decisions. She said that the group also wants to make sure that “the budget reflects the values of our town.”
Leng was elected for his first full term as mayor in 2015.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org