TPD announces second SRO to kick-off back-to-school

Courtesy/TPD TPD Officer Matt Maesta was selected as Torrington’s second school resource officer (SRO) for the 2022-2023 school year.

TPD also issues back-to-school safety tips, announces new officer

TORRINGTON – Torrington Police Department announced a second school resource officer (SRO), provided back-to-school internet safety tips and welcomed a new police officer last week.

TPD Chief Matt Johnson wrote, “We are excited to announce that Officer (Matt) Maesta is going back-to-school after having been selected this week as our newest school resource officer.”

Over the summer Chief Johnson worked toward obtaining a grant that would pay for Goshen County School District (GCSD) schools in Torrington to have a second SRO, continuing the groundwork current SRO Jeff Ryall has laid the last couple of years, such as the reinvigorated, modernized Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. Goshen County Sheriff’s Department is currently working toward obtaining similar grants for GCSD to also have a dedicated SRO at other schools within the county.

“Officer Maestas is filling a new SRO position here in Torrington that was created in partnership with Goshen County School District No. 1 and Community Coalition,” Johnson wrote.

Adding, “SRO (Jeff) Ryall will maintain his focus at Torrington High School and SRO (Matt) Maestas will primarily serve the Middle and Elementary schools in Torrington.”

“Officer Maestas has a fantastic ability to connect with kids and build relationships,” Johnson explained. “We can’t wait to see him thrive in this new role.”

Earlier this summer, the Telegram detailed how SRO’s as well as TPD’s community policing programs such as D.A.R.E. and SRO program, can make an impactful difference in the security, safety and resiliency of community schools in a three-part series; Chief Johnson first announced the department was working toward a grant for a second SRO back in June.

“Personal relationships matter,” Johnson previously told the Telegram about the importance of SRO’s. “If you are looking for resiliency in kids, and even in adults, it doesn’t come from impersonal means – like social media – it comes from a boots on the ground approach and really cultivating personal relationships with the kids and teachers at the schools we serve.”

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, Conn.; 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 – work 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 SROs. SROs 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.

Just last year, Arvada, Colo. SRO Officer Gordon Beesley, died protecting his community and a nearby elementary school when a gunman opened fire in the community. Beesley was credited with transforming the lives of several youth members from going down the wrong paths in life by the school district and chief of police. This year, community members honored Beesley with a memorial at the schools and parks he served as SRO. He even rode his bike to school with a special needs child who was determined to ride his bike to school, every year for almost 3 years before he was shot by the gunman.

Chief Johnson and SRO Ryall both previously told the Telegram over the summer that although they hope they never have to use their active school shooter and threat training, they are prepared to answer the call if it happens. Two weeks ago, TPD, along with GCSD and other regional law enforcement agencies participated in an active shooter and threat training at Torrington High School.

In keeping with safety – TPD’s newest SRO, Maestas, demonstrated two typical back-to-school pictures parents post online detailing personal information about their child, their child’s grade, school information and other identifying details that could potentially put their children and family at risk of predators.

“We know everyone is excited for kids to go back to school, and you’ve likely seen parents posting pictures much like these celebrating the start of a new school year,” Chief Johnson wrote on social media posts to the community. “Oftentimes, these photos reveal a great deal of personal information, such as children's ages, school, teacher and grade – these details can potentially be used by predators and scammers.”

“It is a good idea to limit the amount of identifying information you post, no matter your privacy settings,” Johnson added.

TPD said it is better to post a picture with limited and/or no personal details, “together, we can help the children in our community have a safe and fun school year.”

At its regularly scheduled meeting, The City of Torrington City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 16, watched as Chief Johnson swore in and welcomed Torrington native Jacob Smith as its newest member of the agency.

“Please join us in welcoming (TPD) Officer Jacob Smith as the newest member of our agency,” Johnson wrote. “He was sworn in at the city council meeting this past Tuesday.”

“Jacob joins us with seven years of law enforcement experience, 13 years of service in the National Guard and is a life-long resident of Torrington,” Johnson added. “We are excited to have him on our team.”

Smith will complete two weeks of intensive training at TPD and then begin the FTO process. “Jacob is filling an open position on our patrol team that is being created by the addition of a second SRO (Maestas) who will be serving our schools this fall,” Johnson explained.

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