As a 13-year veteran of the Wilton Police Department, Officer Diane MacLean is well known to many Wilton students. She has been “Officer Friendly” to Miller-Driscoll School and Cider Mill School elementary students for any security and safety curriculum in which they’ve taken part.
That’s just one reason she’s a logical fit for her new job, the newly-created second School Resource Officer (SRO) for Wilton’s schools, a role that was created based on the recommendation of the Wilton Security Task Force this past spring. But in speaking with her, it becomes so clear that her enthusiasm, her passion for making sure Wilton kids are safe and secure, and her professional skills make her supremely qualified to blaze the trail for this role.
In her first interview since getting the job, MacLean told GOOD Morning Wilton, “I’m happy they chose me. I have been the Community Police Officer and Crime Prevention Officer for years now. So I do have the foundation from seeing the kids when they’re first born and putting in the car seats, then doing ‘Officer Friendly.’”
Even more so, she’s thrilled her new role lets her fill a void she says exists after the kids age out of elementary school. She’s looking forward to the prospect of how Wilton students now will have a more consistent chance to solidify a relationship and connection with the officers. That hopefully, she’s helping lay the groundwork for getting pre-teens to better accept police officers as allies well into their teen years.
“I will be primarily at Middlebrook School, and [current SRO] Ofc. [Rich] Ross will be primarily at the High School. I don’t want to speak for the chief but I think the reasoning behind that is, although there’s a definite need for MD and CM, there are so many good programs that take place at Middlebrook, there’s a great need for the foundation to be started there–it’s only going to snowball with what Ross is doing at WHS. Middlebrook kids, they can go either way, and if we don’t have that foundation there, then when Ofc. Ross sees them in high school, it’s more difficult to keep them.”
In other words, she knows that the way it’s been until now, with just an “Officer Friendly” at Miller-Driscoll, “there’s too much down time between then and when [Ross] gets to see them at the high school.”
For now, she will be in uniform while at the school.
“Maybe not all the time, but at least at the beginning. It is a great deterrent. But once I get established and the students recognize me as a police officer, a couple of times a week I’ll be in plainclothes so that I feel more approachable to them, we’ll see how that goes. They’ll get to know me, they’ll get to now that I’m a support for them. I’m not there to point fingers, or to play cops and robbers. I’m there as a support for the student body, for the staff.”
Because it’s a new position, the department is approaching this like a work in progress. She’ll have some time to figure out how the kids are responding to her and she’ll have wiggle room to start new programs.
As SRO, she’ll work with the students in a variety of ways–some of it will involve teaching safety curriculum, whether that’s social media and internet safety, bullying or alcohol and drug use prevention; she’s also at the school to help with threat assessment and prevention, as well as to help the kids navigate so much more.
“They have trouble understanding the ramifications of social networking; they go out and do it before they realize it’s there forever. They don’t understand peer pressure, and I want to help them with that. They don’t understand the many faces bullying takes, I want to help them with that. When I say ‘help,’ I want to help. I don’t want to be the ‘strong arm of the law.’ I want to be a support, a sounding board. When they get to the high school level, they may need a strong arm. But right now they’re so impressionable that they need softness and sensitivity, and also that objectiveness.”
MacLean is eager to work with parents too.
“I want to know what parents expect, what they’d like to see. I want to be accessible, and know how else I can assist and support.”
Of course one of the areas she knows will be critical is in the area of underage drinking. Not only is she an officer that works with the current Safe Rides program, which operates out of Trackside Teen Center, she recently attended an underage drinking seminar, which helped the participants role-play scenarios of parents talking with kids about the topic–something she’s eager to help Wilton parents of pre-teens and teens practice and feel more comfortable doing.
She sees having an increased police presence in the schools as something Wilton needed.
“This has been lacking and the town recognized that–not just because of what happened in Sandy Hook, but as a deterrent, to keep a patrol car outside, to let people outside Wilton know that there’s somebody in there, that we’ve taken this step, is a very positive thing.”
She’s very familiar with the precepts of school security, for Wilton in particular.
“I’ve already done the security analysis for the public schools as well as the private schools, so I have a good layout of the building, I’ve worked with the security task force and know what their goals are for getting Wilton safer. It’s a great partnership.”
As a parent with children in the Wilton school system–including one at Middlebrook–I personally find it reassuring to know that there’s that additional community presence around the kids for the pre-teen to teen years, especially at a time when kids that age are formulating their decision-making skills for some of the harder life choices they start to face.
What’s also encouraging is that MacLean is a parent with children the same age as those she’ll be working with. Her oldest has just graduated middle school and will be a high school freshman in the fall; she also has another child still in middle school.
“I know what my own kids were up against in middle school,” she says.
One of the obvious things that sets her apart is that MacLean is a woman–she’s one of now five female officers on the Wilton police force.
“I think it’s key. There are a lot of instances where a female would be helpful. Ofc. Ross has such a great presence in the school already, but what about those who aren’t comfortable with what they want to come forward with. It doesn’t necessarily have to be of a sexual nature; it just may be that they may click with a female. That’s definitely needed. There are cases where a guy will click better than I will or another officer. But there are definitely those cases where a female will just have that sensitivity, and that person will just feel better talking to them,” she says, adding that having an officer of each gender in the the schools is “win-win.”
Above all, she’s eager to get going, after taking part in a training program specific for school resource officers, which runs next week.
“I’m excited. I’m excited to see what we can make this be,” MacLean says.