The Valley News has been selected to add two journalists — a photojournalist and a climate and environment reporter — to our newsroom through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Hartford police chief ended school resource officer position years ago

  • Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 8/1/2020 9:19:08 PM
Modified: 8/1/2020 9:19:06 PM

On his second day in a Hartford police uniform in 2015, Chief Phil Kasten met with the town’s school officials to talk about the school resource officer’s position that had been vacant for a while.

School officials were interested in hearing Kasten’s plan for installing a new cop to patrol Hartford’s high school and middle school.

Five years later, the job of school resource officer, or SRO, for short, remains unfilled — by design.

Taking cues from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that convened after police shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Kasten moved away from the traditional SRO model.

After Kasten came aboard, Hartford police stopped posting an armed officer in the adjacent schools throughout the school day. Police would no longer have an office inside Hartford High.

Instead Kasten, who was chief deputy for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department in Maryland before coming to Hartford, turned to what Obama’s task force called “youth-focused policing.” Building trust in communities is key to more effective relations between law enforcement agencies and young people, according to the report, which was issued in 2015. It’s gained renewed attention following police killings of several unarmed Black people across the country in recent months.

Using the work of Obama’s task force as a road map, Kasten assigned two officers to each of Hartford’s eight schools, including its three elementary schools. The schools became part of the officers’ beat.

Officers on the day shift stop by to participate in physical education classes or mingle with students and staff at lunchtime. Officers working in the evening attend athletic events and concerts at the schools. Some cops have joined students and teachers on field trips.

When in Maryland, Kasten developed a similar program after hearing about other states trying it.

“As police, we have to continue to change to meet the needs of the community, and I think that’s what this program does,” he said.

Since Sept. 1, 2018, Hartford police have made more than 2,700 visits to school campuses, including 590 foot patrols inside school buildings, according to department records. In 2019, police made two arrests — both for alleged assaults. The cases were sent to juvenile court, Kasten said.

All other cases, including five offenses involving drugs or alcohol, didn’t lead to arrests. They were handled outside the courts — sometimes by school administrators, Kasten said.

“I like what we’re doing,” said Hartford High Principal Nelson Fogg, who is a former social studies teacher and 1979 graduate of the school. “It’s more about community policing.”

In traditional SRO programs, municipalities and school districts usually share costs, which can run about $100,000 a year. In Hartford, the “Adopt-a-School” program is part of the police budget.

In talking with Kasten recently, I brought up what had happened at Hartford Memorial Middle School several years ago. He hadn’t heard about the case, which I wrote about in 2012 after parents for both boys provided school and court records. The Valley News didn’t print their names.

In January 2012, several eighth-grade boys were involved in a scuffle in a school hallway. Punches were thrown, but no injuries were reported.

After being questioned by the principal, two boys, ages 13 and 14, were suspended from school for one and two days, respectively.

Three weeks later, then-Hartford SRO Kristinnah Adams, who split her time between the high school and middle school, issued citations to the two boys to appear in delinquency court. (The 13-year-old was cited for disorderly conduct and the 14-year-old was cited for simple assault.)

The older boy, who lived with his family at the Shady Lawn Motel, was fingerprinted. But the 13-year-old’s father refused to take him to the police station.

The boy’s dad, a delivery truck driver, took on a second job to help pay for a lawyer to fight the case in juvenile case.

It was money well-spent. Windsor County prosecutors eventually dropped the case. Prosecutors referred the older boy to an alternative court program, aimed at helping youths avoid being labeled as delinquents.

Kasten didn’t have much to say about the 2012 incident, which I could understand since it didn’t come under his watch.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do (in the last five years), but it’s still not perfect,” he said.

As for the SRO office inside Hartford High that police no longer use?

It’s now home to a school social worker.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2020 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy