School Resource Officer Tony Guzzello
The Port Washington School District is one of the few lucky districts to have its own school resource officer. While the School District Officer Program itself enriches a school district, Port's SRO (School Resource Officer) Tony Guzzello, who has held the position since October 1996, enhances the school experience for the students even more because he epitomizes the key elements for being a positive role model for them. These include good moral standards; good judgment and discretion; consistency, fairness and honesty; respect for students and a sincere concern for the school community. "I absolutely love working with the staff and kids, says Officer Tony, whom many of us know because he attends and participates in so many local activities.
Officer Tony spoke about the history and creation of the School Resource Program. He advises that prior to 1950, there was no organized programs. Officers, at the request of teachers, would present special programs on such topics as bicycle safety, traffic safety and child molesters. Any officer who was available on that day would present the program. This could happen even if the officer was unfamiliar with the topic to be presented.
In the late 1950s, the first School Resource Officer Program was started in Flint, Michigan. Officers had set a goal to improve police/youth relations. They placed police officers in the schools full time to serve as counselors and teachers. Their first task was to test the youths on their attitudes toward law enforcement. After its first year, the program was deemed a success and the Flint program became the model for all future programs.
Officer Guzzello points out that Port Washington's setup is unique because its program has the same SRO servicing only one community. "The County has about five SROs, but they're responsible for all of the communities in Nassau."
This added personal touch is augmented by the fact that Officer Guzzello is a lifelong resident of Port, with deep roots in the community. He has an amazing grasp of the numerous subtleties of this diverse town. He's married to Nicole Garofalo, who is part of a well-known Port family. Like their many relatives before them, they've put down roots in Port Washington and are expecting their first child shortly.
What does the School Resource Program do? According to Officer Guzzello, it has received a great deal of attention as a promising strategy to strengthen law enforcement roles and the communities they serve. Law enforcement agencies that utilize this pro-active approach are discovering that crime rates are decreasing and that schools are becoming safer.
Its goals are to bridge the gap between police officers and youth; increase a positive attitude toward law enforcement and encourage more cooperation between kids and police officers.
Another goal is to reduce juvenile crime through counseling and educating youths about the system. Taking a personal interest in students has also proven to be effective.
The program also offers lectures to the student body. For the more mature students in the middle and high schools, lecture topics such as alcohol abuse, DWI, dangerous drugs and drug abuse, shoplifting, search and seizure, vandalism, traffic control and safety, weapons, and rape and rape prevention provide them with valuable information to help them shape their lives.
The elementary school students receive presentations on topics such as "Careful With Strangers," "Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety," "Seasonal Safety Topics," "Guns," "Shoplifting" and the "Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol."
Officer Guzzello reports that the program offers prevention/intervention strategies for schools. He cites those identified by the Minnesota Department of Education in 1992 as follows:
* Adopt a ZERO tolerance attitude toward drug/alcohol use, possession and sale or distribution on school grounds.
* Teach refusal, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
* Teach interpersonal skills (listening, friendship-making, etc.)
* Teach students goal-setting skills.
* Set up drug-free school functions (i.e. Gambol/prom night).
* Help to organize and support positive youth groups (i.e. SADD Students Against Drunk Driving, Port Washington Teen Center, the Youth Council, PYA, and PAL.)
* Incorporate basic drug education and behavioral guidance programs into the curriculum, taught by trained teachers with proper materials.
* Teach the health, social and legal consequences and risks of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, in addition to working with the Task Force for a Safe and Drug Free Schools and Community.
* Enhance self-esteem.
* Promote the personal understanding and sharing of feelings.
* Promote involvement of students in co-curricular activities in school and/or community.
Looking forward to the new school year, Officer Tony says that he wants to continue to bridge the gap between the student population and the PWPD. "I want to work closely with the Task Force and superintendent, to benefit the kids," he notes.
"We'll be continuing with the Lacer-Disc program set up by the late County Legislator Barbara Johnson and now being supported by her son, our new County Legislator Craig Johnson.
Officer Guzzello stressed that the police department is grateful for the wonderful cooperation between the department and the schools. "It's a big, big plus," says Officer Tony.