Fairfield police chief defends changes to School Safety Unit

Photo of Tara O'Neill
Fairfield Police Chief Christopher Lyddy poses in front of police headquarters, in Fairfield, Conn., on June 25, 2020.

Fairfield Police Chief Christopher Lyddy poses in front of police headquarters, in Fairfield, Conn., on June 25, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — The town’s police chief has responded to concerns some residents have raised about recent changes to the department’s School Safety Unit ahead of the return to school next week.

Fairfield Public Schools will welcome back more than 9,000 students on Tuesday.

“School may look different in many ways, but what hasn’t changed is the importance of the relationships students have with their teachers. We were all thrilled to be getting kids back into the buildings,” Superintendent Mike Cummings said Friday in a statement.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing, Cummings said students can expect social distancing, mask wearing, floor markings, additional custodial staff and cleaning protocols.

But those aren’t the only changes students will see in their schools.

In a statement earlier this week, Chief Christopher Lyddy said the department would be moving two school resource officers from the School Safety Unit to other units within the force. He also announced that the School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation program would not be taught to start the school year.

Lyddy said these changes were made to accommodate hybrid and remote learning programs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The two SROs would have typically taught the SHAPE program, Lyddy said, adding that the change was not permanent.

“Both of these measures are temporary, and we anticipate that we will be moving two officers back into the school unit and reinstating the SHAPE program once schools reopen again in full in-person learning,” Lyddy said.

With retirements and officers out on leave, Lyddy said, the department’s personnel is functioning with about 10 percent less staff than usual.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, police academies have been shut down and we have been unable to bring on new officers during this time,” he said.

The former SROs will fill vacant roles elsewhere in the department as officials seek to hire additional officers in the near future.

Lyddy also announced that Lt. Edward Weihe, who was heading the School Safety Unit, was reassigned.

“Lt. Weihe has done an amazing job in the schools over the years and we commend him for his work,” the chief said. “However, just like many of our supervisory staff, we seek to make sure that our officers are able to gain as much experience as possible in a variety of positions and roles within the department.”

Lyddy said department-wide reorganization is routine every few years, leading to officers getting promoted and supervisors — like Weihe — taking on new roles.

“It should be made abundantly clear that these decisions have been planned for well ahead of time and are in no way a knee-jerk reaction to the Police Accountability Bill,” the chief said. “The Fairfield Police Department maintains a great relationship with the Fairfield Public Schools and I have been in contact with Superintendent Michael Cummings about these issues.”