Derby, Connecticut Police Sgt. Brian Grogan and Patrol Officer Frank DeAngelo have been a regular and reliable presence at Derby High School since the fall. But the two officers, members of AFSCME Local 1376 (Council 4), are not patrolling the hallways for safety and security reasons.
They and other Derby police officers are in the classroom to provide students with real-world lessons in civic engagement.
Grogan and DeAngelo, who work the evening shift, report to the high school weekly to instruct seniors in a Social Studies elective designed to connect local youth with the police officers who serve and protect their community.
“We see people on the worst day of their lives. Any opportunity where we can interact with people outside the normal area of law enforcement is good,” said DeAngelo, who is also the local’s vice president.
“The students get to see us as normal people. We’re able to converse with them in a relaxed way. It’s been a pleasant experience,” added Grogan, a union executive board member.
The high school program, which runs through the school year, is funded by the Derby Police Department as part of the strategic community outreach plan that includes connecting law enforcement with youth through an emphasis on history and civics.
Drawing from their experience, training and expertise, police officers are hoping to break down perceived barriers and form positive relationships with the students.
“We want the kids to make smart decisions,” Grogan explained, “and understand the short- and long-term consequences of the decisions they make.”
Along with assisting with the teachers’ existing curricula, officers focus on current topics based on what the cops and kids are going through and seeing in the world around them.
Some of the police topics covered include a general overview of policing, the process to become a police officer, why police act and respond to situations in certain ways, and drug/alcohol/driving-under-the-influence awareness.
Grogan and DeAngelo have also discussed the rise of criminal behaviors intensified by technological advances, whether it’s online bullying and threatening or sexting.
The explosion of social media has also fueled misunderstanding of and hostility toward police officers. The weekly Social Studies class has helped break down those barriers.
“The kids see that we’re normal people, sharing life experiences,” Grogan said.
The classroom experience has also provided a valuable civics lesson.
“The goal of any civic organization is to educate and to help people,” DeAngelo said. “As police officers, we’re invested in the community. We’re doing our part to educate and help.”
For DeAngelo, who grew up in a union family (his father was a career firefighter in Fairfield), the weekly classes have also reinforced the role of unions as civic institutions.
“I was raised knowing that the union is out there to help you and that you as a member should be helping the union," he explained. "People deserve to have a voice on the job, and fair wages and benefits. Unions are a necessity today.”
Grogan also appreciates the value of union membership. “The union humanizes us,” he said. “It shows that we’re people, not numbers.”