Facing budget cuts in 2009, state police eliminated a program that put troopers in schools across the state.
It was the end of a program that at one time, when federal money was flowing, had as many as 40 state troopers in public schools, most of them in towns with no municipal police departments.
Now, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, officials at the federal and state level are talking about finding money to put more school resource officers in schools, whether they be state troopers or municipal police officers.
The state reassigned the troopers to fill vacant slots on road patrols and in traffic enforcement. The state saved about $1.2 million by not having to hire new troopers, state records show.
"The idea was to save money no question, but it was also how we were using the resources we had," former state police Col. Thomas Davoren said. "In some cases we had two guys trying to cover 32 schools or we had districts where there were two arrests in eight months."
The program was originally funded by a federal grant and by matching stage funds. State police provided as many as 40 troopers and continued funding many of the positions after the matching federal grant ended. Almost all the state's technical schools had troopers.
"We kind of forced districts to take them at the beginning. Many schools weren't sure if they needed one,'' Davoren said.
Davoren, who is now chief of the City of Groton Police Department, said getting schools to accept an officer wouldn't be a problem following the Newtown shooting.
Federal money may soon be available again. President Barack Obama is proposing to spend $150 million through the Department of Justice to hire at least 1,000 school resource officers, counselors and psychologists for school districts across the country.
And Rep. Michael Molgano, R-Stamford, has submitted a bill calling for the state to establish an 80 percent matching grant program to municipalities to pay for the cost of hiring school resource officers.
Molgano said the idea is to make funds available for communities. None would be required to have a police officer in schools.
"Just to know there is somebody in the building that God forbid after what we just went through it were to happen again would know how to act,'' Molgano said.
Molgano's bill is one of 13 proposals surrounding school safety issues that legislators will be reviewing.
But one school superintendent, who has urged state police to reinstate the program, isn't waiting for state or federal assistance. Region 10 Superintendent Alan Beitman will next week hire a police officer to patrol the district's schools. The position will be funded by the school board and the towns of Burlington and Harwinton.
"I can't rely on the state and, quite honestly, if they agreed to fund a position tomorrow in three years they'd just pull the money again for the next political cause," Beitman said.
Beitman said he spent 11/2 years trying to convince state police to revive the program.
Beitman even got his school board to approve spending $35,000 to offset the state's costs or to pay for an officer for 90 days, or half the school year, in the district's four schools. He hoped that if the state's financial cost was reduced the state would agree to revive the program, he said.
"I got a call from one of Gov. (Dannel P.) Malloy's people about a week before he was inaugurated letting me know they were interested in my proposal,'' Beitman said.
He was told that the governor was going to pass his idea on to new state police Commissioner Reuben Bradford. Beitman said he was told by state police officials that they couldn't provide a trooper for just his school.
State police Col. Danny Stebbins said he remembers meeting with officials from Region 10, but couldn't provide them with a trooper because of budget issues.
"We just didn't have the bodies to give them. Our first responsibility is to make sure we can cover 911 calls,'' Stebbins said. "Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions."
Stebbins was one of the first supporters of the school resource officer program when the federal funding first became available. He said there's no question that having police officers or troopers in schools has kept many students off a path leading to criminal activity.
Stebbins said troopers taught classes in not only law but also math, using accident reconstruction data to show how math factors into police work. The officers also built relationships with students, who saw them every day.
Caleb Lopez, the school resource officer in South Windsor, said it is not clear how many departments have officers in their towns' schools. He said most are in cities and bigger municipalities.
"Just like the state police, a lot of communities had to make choices because of budget problems and unfortunately school resource officers are one of the first positions that goes away," Lopez said.
Lopez said there are also school administrators who don't want police officers in their schools, believing all they do is arrest students.
"It will be interesting to see if the staunch critics from a few months ago will have changed their attitudes following the Newtown tragedy,'' Lopez said.
But Beitman said arresting students isn't the ultimate aim of having a school resource officer.
"There are hundreds of potential horrendous stories where a (school resource officer) stepped in and helped a student or a parent,'' Beitman said. "I want the (officer) working with administrators, going to concerts and sporting events, meeting with parents and being highly visible throughout the district."Copyright © 2015, CT Now