Trumbull State Senate candidate backs cops in schools

Steve Choi

Steve Choi

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Although he is running to replace State Sen. Marilyn Moore in the 22nd District, Republican challenger Steve Choi set his political sights on a larger target this week, taking on U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy over the proposal to strip federal funding from school resource officers.

The bill, SB 4360, also known as the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, was introduced by Murphy in July. The bill would replace police officers with counselors and mental health support staff.

In the past 20 years, the federal government has allocated more than $1 billion to subsidize more than 46,000 police officer in schools, Murphy said.

Choi called the presence of resource officers in schools of critical importance. Currently Trumbull has police stationed at Trumbull High School and both middle schools.

“School resource officers build relationships with students, help kids in trouble and are successful in preventing an incident before it occurs,” Choi said this past week. “(Officers) receive special training to earn and maintain their certification; they consistently receive in-service training and undergo annual evaluations by the school administration.”

But do they make schools safer? According to Murphy, the answer is no.

“A growing body of research has not found any evidence that school resource officers make schools safer, and school resource officers have been shown to increase the likelihood that children will be arrested, often by the school resource officer while on campus,” Murphy wrote in Section 2 of SB 4360. “Research has shown that schools with a designated school law enforcement officer on duty arrested students at five times the rate of comparable schools without such an officer.”

Moore, asked to comment on the bill and Choi’s stance, did not immediately return a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media.

Choi said he objected to the Murphy’s characterization of resource officers as a disciplinary tool of the district.

“Contrary to Senator Murphy’s belief of a systemic school-to-prison pipeline, SROs are not just uniformed police in schools looking to arrest kids and send them through the juvenile justice system,” Choi said. “As with any good community policing effort, SROs build relationships of trust with students, teachers, administrators and school staff.”

While the legislation is a congressional issue, town boards and commissions vote each year to accept federal funds such as the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, and other grants to pay for school resource officers, Choi said. The Trumbull Town Council has expressed no worries about applying for or receiving the funds, he said.

In Bridgeport, Choi said, one school resource officer is also a certified youth basketball referee. Last year, School Resource Officer Carlos Carmo Jr. was hailed as a hero after he stopped an unattended SUV that slipped out of Park and was rolling toward a group of students.

The biggest reason for police in schools, though, is the specter of mass school shootings, Choi said.

“Whether they live in Bridgeport, Monroe or Trumbull, all parents want their children to be safe in schools,” he said.

“While technology plays a role in security, there is no substitute to having a trained, certified officer on school grounds,” he said.