TPD announces new SRO for LaGrange, Southeast Schools
Made possible in partnership with GCSO and GCSD
GOSHEN COUNTY – Torrington Police Department (TPD) announced its newest School Resource Officer (SRO) as part of a partnership between Goshen County School District (GCSD) and Goshen County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO).
TPD Chief Matt Johnson told the Telegram, retired GCSO Deputy and current TPD part-time Officer Alex Irons will be the newest member of the department's SRO program and will cover LaGrange Elementary as well as Southeast Schools in Yoder.
Johnson explained how GCSD expressed a desire and need to have an SRO at its two southernmost schools and how TPD worked out a jurisdictional agreement (or memorandum of understanding/MOU) with GCSO in order to provide the needed services to the two schools.
Earlier this year, through a grant, TPD was able to promote a second officer as SRO for GCSD schools within Torrington city limits. The newest member now gives the department three SRO’s and two certified Drug Abuse Resistance Education (or D.A.R.E.) officers, with a third officer beginning D.A.R.E. certification to help at GCSD schools.
“The district approached us with a need that was being unmet and we worked closely with (Goshen County) Sheriff Kory (Fleenor) in creating a jurisdictional agreement that would give our officer the authority at both LaGrange Elementary and Southeast Schools to perform his duties as an SRO,” Johnson explained. “We sort of knew immediately the perfect fit for this job because he lives in the area, is a retired sheriff’s deputy and a part-time hourly officer here with TPD.”
At its regularly scheduled December board meeting, GCSD board members unanimously voted to approve an agenda item that would pay $32.61 per hour for a minimum of 20 hours a week with mileage split between the two schools in southern Goshen County. The board also approved the purchase of an Axon body camera for the new SRO in the amount of $2,700 to be purchased from the General Fund.
Previously, in a follow up conversation with GCSD Superintendent Ryan Kramer, he told the Telegram it is his hope to have an SRO employed at each GCSD via partnerships with local law enforcement agencies but appreciates TPD stepping up to provide an SRO for LaGrange and Yoder.
Kramer expressed how well the SRO program is going in Torrington schools and wishes to have the program extended even further for all the district's students.
“This certainly isn’t a long-term solution, because eventually Officer Irons will retire-retire one day,” Johnson explained. “However, I believe that between our working relationship with the district and greater community, that this is the right solution for now.”
Chief Johnson said this new opportunity could allow TPD and its D.A.R.E. officers the ability to reach more Goshen County youth as the department begins the process of starting D.A.R.E. certification for new TPD Officer Matt Maestas, who is the SRO for Torrington elementary schools. TPD Officer Jeff Ryall is the SRO for Torrington high and middle schools and helps TPD Officer Nick Jenkins with facilitating the D.A.R.E. program; both are certified D.A.R.E. instructors.
Chief Johnson said the district and department have worked in the past to provide occasional D.A.R.E. programs in schools outside of Torrington, but looks forward to being able to possibly provide this program on a more regular basis to those schools.
“It’s (SRO) a vital community policing program and it starts with building trusted relationships within our community and with our youth,” Johnson further explained. “In providing this service to not only Torrington, but now in Yoder and LaGrange, we can further provide an increased level of security to our greater community as it relates to school safety.”
Johnson further explained why SRO Irons was the right fit for the newest SRO position is because his part-time job within the department as an officer allows for a greater flexibility to provide the services LaGrange and Yoder schools needed.
“Officer Irons won’t have a set schedule to be at the two schools, so it adds an additional layer of protection and security to the schools with just his presence there at unknown or random timing,” Johnson said. “The stipulation is he must be at the schools for a minimum of 20 hours a week, which he can divide that up as needed, but to remain part-time and hourly here within the department, he can work no more than 29 hours.”
Chief Johnson explained Irons was hired to fill in as needed when officers were sick, on scheduled vacation or otherwise couldn’t make a shift, “but Officer Irons also helps fill other needs within the department like covering special events or helping during major holidays.”
“Officer Irons has been an asset to the department and I believe he will serve as an even greater asset in this jurisdictional agreement to be the SRO for Yoder and LaGrange,” Johnson added.
According to Johnson, the jurisdictional agreement between TPD and GCSO permits SRO Irons the ability to conduct himself as an officer of the law on the school campuses. He will be able to fulfill his function as SRO as it relates to school safety and continuing to build a healthy relationship and partnership with school administrators and students.
SRO’s provide critical safety and security services to schools but they also act as the first line of defense when it comes to youth safety in school settings.
According to federal data, nearly 90% of SRO’s are armed while at schools and another roughly 80% often prevent security risks or tragedies from striking a community.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s program Community Oriented Policing Services (or C.O.P.S.), an SRO program supporting safe schools and community engagement program, SRO's are trained for and have four job functions at schools and within their service communities.
Those four job functions include:
- Law Enforcer: promotes safety in or around the school and community, by addressing crime and fear of crime. Serves as a liaison between the school and law enforcement/judicial agencies.
- Informal Counselor: Builds relationships to identify changes in behaviors, social engagement, academic performance, sports involvement and relationship/character building. Reinforces positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors. Connects youth with needed/requested services/aid/help.
- Educator: Teaches topics related to law enforcement, judicial systems, alternative legal programs - all geared toward positive student behaviors and criminal aversion programs.
- Emergency Manager: Develops and implements comprehensive safety plans during emergencies of all sorts – weather, criminal, tragic, social, emotional, etc – in coordination with school administrators and all jurisdictional law enforcement agencies. Acts as the last line of defense in tragic situations to prevent or manage those incidents. Extremely trained in lock-down procedures and active-shooter situations to prevent mass loss of life.
C.O.P.S. estimates that more than half of violent school incidents are averted with the help of SRO’s and SRO programs. In a comprehensive Averted School Violence (ASV) Database 2021 analysis report, triggered by the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Connecticut; the agency analyzed 171 averted and 60 carried-out violent attacks at schools nationwide. It was determined that averted incidents were “generally uncovered by people in a small number of categories closely associated with the school.” Second to only peer-reporting (to school administrators, most of which were to SRO’s the report notes) a majority of those uncovered, averted (prevented) school violent acts were credited to SRO’s. The database is currently analyzing nearly 300 averted incidents for its next report.
Because a large number of averted school violent incidents are reported by peers to school administrators, mostly SRO’s and school counselors, C.O.P.S. wrote, “It is important for school officials to ensure that every adult – administrator, faculty, staff, or SRO – works to develop strong relationships with students so that students feel comfortable reporting concerns about possible threats.”
C.O.P.S. also noted that roughly 70% of would-be school shooters turn themselves into school officials, namely SRO’s. SRO’s were first introduced in the U.S. in the early 1950s but did not become a mainstay until the early 1990s. For more visit, www.cops.usdoj.gov/supportingsafeschools.
“Having safe schools is our priority and we will do everything in our power to ensure our schools are safe by working with the district and with other law enforcement agencies within our county and state,” Johnson explained.
“So we gladly offer this support and goodwill for the betterment of not only our immediate community here in Torrington, but also to our larger community around Goshen County,” Johnson added.
Johnson likened the role of SRO to that of a Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
“It is each of our responsibilities to keep our communities thriving and safe,” Johnson said. “But even a greater responsibility for us to step up and fill the needs of our surrounding neighbors. For now we are happy to help GCSO and the district in filling this need and we will continue to work with and toward a better long-term solution for schools outside of Torrington to have the security SRO’s provide to the schools and district.”
The Telegram is reaching out to local law enforcement who provide SRO services to the county’s northernmost schools outside of Torrington for a future story.