By JEN CARDINES
Officer Kevin Naranjo spends his days roaming the hallways of Southington High School (SHS) actively involved in all aspects of the institution. He is part counselor, friend, parent, police officer, and teacher. He’s the doorway to so many different routes that students can take. He is the Student Resource Officer (SRO).
An SHS graduate himself, Naranjo has been with the Southington Police Department for five years following his four and a half year run with the Farmington squad. This is his first year as a resource officer, and the first time that the contract spans four years.
In the past, SROs were assigned for two or three years, but beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, the contracts run for four, allowing the officer to see a graduating class all the way through.
The program was spearheaded in the fall of 1997 from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, which paid for 75 percent of the officer’s salary. SPD Deputy Chief Palmieri said that the first Southington SRO was Gerry Triano, and there have been seven more since then. “It’s a phenomenal program,” Palmieri said. “It’s allowed us to bring law enforcement and develop a positive relationship in the school. The SRO is very visible.”
Naranjo walks through the school between each class period, stops in the cafeteria during lunch waves, stands outside for bus duty, and always has his door open for students.
“The more they get to see me, the more comfortable they’ll feel with me, and the more comfortable they’ll feel when they have to come to me with a problem,” he said. “I’m not here just for problems. I have a candy jar, but it’s empty right now, which tells you how many kids pop in here to just to say hello and have a candy.”
SHS is the eighth largest high school in Connecticut with approximately 2,100 students in the building. That can sometimes stretch the SRO pretty thin.
“There’s only one of me,” Naranjo said with a laugh. “It’s such a big building. There are so many doors and hallways you’ve got to spend a portion of your day walking, so that you know it.”
Naranjo said he enjoys the time he spends visiting every nook and cranny of the school.
On special occasions, he gets in front of a class to teach different subjects. The civics class benefitted from his law enforcement expertise when he spoke about officers wearing body cams and the legality of it. He’s given lectures to classes about what being an officer entails, and the different steps it takes to get there.
Naranjo even stops into the Spanish classes because he is bilingual. “I went to the Spanish class and actually talked them in Spanish. I showed them the importance of being bilingual.”
While he sees many positive elements in the school, there are times when Naranjo has to take action as a law enforcer. As one of the largest high schools in the state, SHS is “a little community in and of itself,” SPD Chief John Daly said.
“The SRO is there to de-escalate situations, which is much faster than if they’d have to call someone in,” said Daly.
When conflict breaks out between class periods, when an accident happens in the parking lot, when a legal issue arises, Naranjo is on the scene. His office even overlooks the entire property front, enabling him to monitor the premises for suspicious entries or loitering students.
“My office is pretty fully stocked,” the SRO said. “I have all the equipment I need.”
The computer is directly connected to the PD with all of the applications so he can do everything he needs right from his high school desk.
“It’s almost like a substation,” Naranjo said. “Some officers will even stop in to either look something up or grab something, so they can kind of utilize this as a substation even when there’s no school. They can always stop in here and stay active on the radio.”
While his full-time job is being a resource officer, his work doesn’t stop when school is out of session. Naranjo will be on the road back on patrol during the upcoming holiday break, and the same goes for summer vacations.
“It’s nice because I can see the kids inside, and if there’s issues with them outside I’ll know them,” he said. “And I can talk to them.”