This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published July 10, 2019
Recently retired police officer Dave Torello only spent four of his 26 year career as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer in East Haven schools, but he says it was a big part of his time in the department.
Though he started as a patrol officer, he quickly realized that he wanted to help kids when he gave a one-off safety instruction to a group of 3rd graders.
“I had gone into one of the classrooms one of my friend’s wives was teaching,” Dave says. “I liked my involvement with the kids all the way back.
“I just wanted to try to make a positive impact on kids in the way that police officers could in a teaching setting,” he says. “They would see us, hopefully, in a parental way.”
Dave says he’s seen little kids hide behind their parents at the sight of a police officer. Getting past that reaction and the negative preconceptions some people have with police is part of what Dave wanted to achieve as a DARE officer.
“Even in the schools, for a while there, early on kids would wonder what I was doing there,” Dave says. “Having an officers in the schools, too, is a great thing.”
He says that he was able to provide a sense of security for the kids. He could talk to them about the school’s safety measures—such as the sign-in system and the locks on the doors. Following the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, Dave says, there was one student who refused to return to school in East Haven.
“I was down at…Momauguin School and they got a call in from one of the parents,” Dave says. “I could overhear them talking and I talked with the mother.”
He visited the child and spoke with him about school safety and encourage him to return to class, something he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do as a patrol officer.
“I kept building and building the program,” Dave says.
He started with the standard 10-week program for 5th graders during which he educated the kids about the “gateway drugs” tobacco and alcohol. When he was asked to expand into teaching about bullying and cyberbullying, he started another non-DARE related course for 6th graders.
“I worked that out at the middle school…It was a program that I put together over a couple months’ time,” he says.
He used Internet sources and videos to put together a PowerPoint class for the group. Some of the subject matter included more intense topics such as suicide prevention.
In some ways, Dave operated as more than a DARE officer. He was something of a school resource officer (SRO), too.
“You get to build the relationships with the kids, that’s big, and also making the kids feel good that there’s a police officer in the school to help protect them,” he says. “I hope that, even at some time if we’re dealing with them in the future, hopefully in a positive way, they’ll have respect.”
In fact, when Dave was preparing for his shift away from patrol duty to school work, he started out earning his SRO certification.
“We thought we were going to [have SROs] at the time, but the thoughts of the administration changed,” Dave says. “I would love to do [either]. I love to be involved with the kids.”
Before he became an officer, Dave earned a degree in math and computer science and took a job with IBM.
“Shortly after I started working there, I realized this office thing is not for me,” Dave says.
From hearing the stories of friends who had police officer relatives, Dave decided a change of career might be for him.
“It sounded good to be able to help people in that way and protect people,” he says.
He started his career as a police officer in Ansonia, where he grew up. After an early layoff at that police department, Dave moved around a bit before being hired to work in East Haven in 1993.
Dave left the DARE position in 2016 when the schedule changed and wouldn’t fit his personal life. He retired from the police department on June 29.
Dave says his last week on the job was bittersweet. He received an award from the Rotary Club in recognition for his service in his final year and gave a brief speech over the radio as part of his final call during the town fireworks display.
“While you’re still working, sometimes you don’t feel the appreciation, even though you might be appreciated. Then you hear it at the end,” he says. “I really felt appreciated.”
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.