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Darien teens warm up to resource officer

Officer James Palmieri spoke at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Student Resource Officer James Palmieri has become an asset and a part of the high school community, according to school administration.

Over three months he has become a voting member of Darien High School Community Council, participated in parent association meetings, contributed to the administration’s leadership team and assisted in planning events such as the Turkey Bowl.

He also works with the Youth Asset Team, Cops and Kids and other groups at the Depot Teen Center and Community Fund. Recently, he participated in a panel about teens and risky behaviors. “My biggest hurdle was overcoming, obviously, being a police officer,” Palmieri told the Board of Education on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Being a police officer can come with a negative connotation and imply punishment or discipline. “The way I perceived my job,” he said, “the base of my being at the high school was kids being comfortable with me.” His relationship with teens at the school is comfortable — students come to him for advice about potential incidents — but his police duties kick in if there is an emergency or he hears something that needs to be reported, she said.

Palmieri is developing relationships with parents as well, and he frequently receives calls from them, he said. His position also allows him to bring various school staff, including principals, guidance counselors and psychologists, to the table with concerned parents.

The student resource officer position in Darien differs from others in neighboring areas in that Palmieri does not actively investigate students. He focuses more on preventing behavior and helping students with his legal advice. Palmieri gives lessons on law enforcement and government at the high school “to help [students] have a more comfortable relationship with a government official,” he said.

He leaves the investigations to Youth Detectives Sam Boccuzzi and Mark Cappelli, Palmieri said, although he has a ‘flow of information’ relationship with the police department.

As part of the Student Intervention Team, Palmieri “initiates” relationships with students who wouldn’t otherwise seek his help. “It allows me, in a familiar setting, to assist the children in the school setting that’s beneficial to everybody,” he said.

His role is also different from that of a school administrator. For example, he deals with bullying that occurs outside of the school through social media. “School admin. have a tough time dealing with problems over social media because they are limited,” he said.

Board of Education secretary Heather Shea asked Palmieri whether his relationship with the Police Department is mutually beneficial. Daily communication with the youth detectives, as well as the students and faculty gives him multiple points of information, he said, and this communication allows the detectives to do their jobs better.

Morgan Whittier, board member, questioned how Palmieri separates his role from that of a social worker. He works with Kathy Gilbert, the high school’s social worker, in some situations. “I’ve sat down with kids that have truancy problems and said ‘Listen, this is the way the law works,” he said, “This is what’s going to happen.” In this case, having a detective in the conversation might intimidate kids, he said.

Palmieri was a patrol officer in Darien and Monroe before that, and received additional training for this position. In this position, “a lot of what happens is preventative,” said Matt Byrnes, assistant principal of secondary schools. The administration looks for adults who will be a positive influence in the students’ lives.

At the high school in Monroe, Palmieri noted, the student resource officer was an active investigator. The officer at New Canaan high school investigates as well, but prefers Darien’s approach, according to Whittier.

“We don’t need that at Darien high school,” Palmieri said. “It would make my job extremely difficult.

“That’s cutting out half the kids at the high school, who would see me as just a cop.”

“There’s a basic model, but it’s like any position,” said Matt Byrnes, assistant principal of secondary schools, “the quality of the personal will determine the position overall.

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