NORWALK, Conn. — Staffing shortages have resulted in less Norwalk Police officers staffing the public schools, Chief Thomas Kulhawik said.
The SRO staffing has been cut from eight to three for Norwalk’s 10 public schools and the high schools don’t have dedicated SROs, according to the Rowayton PTA. Kulhawik said everyone is committed to the school resource program, the funding is in place but, “The one issue we’ve been dealing with is staffing shortages.”
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella is set to review the SRO situation at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. The Rowayton PTA suggested that parents either email [email protected] or speak to the Board in person or via Zoom.
Rowayton real estate appraiser Nora King, who has two children in Norwalk Public Schools, alerted NancyOnNorwalk to the SRO situation on Sept. 9, saying that her son’s $1,000 cell phone had been stolen at school that day. One of her son’s classmates stole it, she said.
“I am so disgusted with this is what is happening in our schools,” she wrote to Kulhawik. “We encourage this behavior that stealing will be tolerated and our police department pulls our SROs out of school so the principal has to deal with it. These kids need to learn that stealing is not okay. The school should be focused on this and educating our kids and stop with equity equity and equity. You are encouraging these kids that it is okay to steal. Equity is not some punk kid stealing and getting away with it. Then the kids that work hard and don’t steal pay the price. That is not equity.”
Kulhawik told King that SROs were “reassigned to patrol when the schools were closed due to COVID. However, when schools started this fall, our manpower issues have prevented us from returning all of them back to the schools. It is not a question of funding, it is a question of having officers available to cover patrol and these special assignments. Unfortunately we have many officers out injured as well as several vacancies that we are working to fill as quickly as possible. We have two officers in field training and hopefully others returning to full duty from injuries and as staffing improves we will seek to return all SRO’s back to their schools.”
“What is Norwalk coming to when we get one excuse after another, and everyone wants to keep blaming Covid for it all. Our schools need officers there,” King replied.
The police department had 173 sworn personnel in July and August and eight patrol officer vacancies, Norwalk Police Deputy Chief James Walsh told the Police Commission last week.
Early this year, Walsh reported 176 sworn personnel and five patrol officer vacancies in January. There were 150.25 sick days used and 73 workmen’s comp days.
In July, there were “174 sick days used by sworn personnel and 165 workmen comp days,” Walsh said last week. “Five officers were on extended workman’s comp and three officers on light duty in the month of July.”
In August, “Sick time, went up a little bit 203 1/4 sick days and workman’s comp remained steady at 174. Seven officers on extended workman’s comp, two officers on light duty.”
Kulhawik spoke Thursday to the Common Council Health and Public Safety Committee.
“Right now, we’ve had several officers leave the department with retirements and resignations for a variety of reasons,” he said. “And we have a number of officers on extended sick leave workers comp, including two of the resource officers. So because of that, we’re a little short staffed in the schools. But we’re compensating for that. And on a temporary basis, we’ve made adjustments and the school districts been great, hiring additional officers for security and other things.”
It takes time to fill vacancies “because it’s hard to hire and get people back on the street in a quick manner. But we’re working on that,” Kulhawik said.
He’s talked about this before; hiring officers from other departments is a great timesaver because they’re already trained and licensed, he said.
Norwalk hired two officers from Bridgeport in June but they resigned days later after community members objected to their backgrounds. Mario Pericep’s partner, James Boulay, shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron in 2017 while the pair were investigating a stolen car report; Boulay was cleared of charges. The other new Norwalk hire was named as a defendant in a lawsuit after Norwalk hired her.
In response, Kulhawik announced updated background check procedures. And Norwalk would stop administering its own entry-level written tests and would sign up with the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association to be part of coordinated testing, which is done year-round instead of once every two years, as the NPD test has been done.
On Thursday, Kulhawik said, “As soon as we can get people back from workers comp, and people back, you know, hired and back on the street, we’ll get full coverage, that we’ve trained a number of new school resource officers as well as backup. So I’m hopeful that in the near future, we’ll have that back to full capacity.”
King said Tuesday that NPS SROs are “amazing.” She said, “Our SRO officer saved the day and caught the kid and recovered the phone.”
Information added, 4:21 a.m. Wednesday.