Council signs off on SRO services agreement with school BCS

Mayor Jim Bilella says an officer could be placed at the school as early as April 15.

At its March 17 workshop meeting, the Berlin Borough Council unanimously voted to pass a resolution that partially funds the Berlin Borough School District hiring of school resource officers.

The motion came three days after the March 14 board of education meeting, at which the district agreed to enter into a contract with the borough, pending the review of both entities’ solicitors, to jointly fund two school resource officers at Berlin Community School.

Mayor Jim Bilella says he signed the services agreement on Saturday morning shortly after council approved the negotiation and that one SRO could potentially be hired by April 15.

“We’re splitting the costs,” he said. “We’re paying for everything that makes the SRO a police officer.”

These expenses include uniforms, equipment, weapons and a police vehicle. The borough will also partially fund the officers’ extensive training, as the other portion of the training will be paid by the district, which will be funding the $25 per hour salary, according to Bilella.

SROs also have lower costs than full-time officers. The lower salary stems from logistics such as not being eligible for health benefits, according to Sgt. T.J. Varano, who spoke on the subject at the board meeting.

The borough’s SRO funding is not quantified directly within a single line item, as the money is coming out of different parts of Berlin’s budget. But, Bilella says the costs are well within the borough’s means.

“We can accommodate the costs within our budget,” he said.

On Monday following the workshop meeting, the local governing body sent the agreement to Superintendent Kristen Martello for the district’s finalization.

Following the initiation of the contract, the borough and police department will select two officers to serve as SROs at BCS. At last week’s BOE meeting, Martello said she will also be involved with the final selection of the officers.

The Berlin Borough Police Department is seeking suitable officers for the position, and Chief Michael Miller has already identified some candidates, according to Bilella.

Since SROs should serve not only as a police officer but also an informal counselor to students and staff, all entities involved plan to make diligent decisions.

SRO SLEO III officers must be retired officers under the age of 65. Along with receiving full training by the police department, they must pass a psychological exam and cannot be retired for more than three years, according to Varano.

“We’re very excited. We really wanted to help make this happen,” Bilella said. “It is important for the community, so we really worked hard. Council and myself really worked with the school to make this happen, including picking up some of the costs relative to try to make this happen.”