When Sandy Hook Elementary School relocated to the Chalk Hill building on Fan Hill Road in Monroe following the horrific shooting in Newtown, Michael Panza and Todd Keeping were the first police officers to provide security and make students, staff and families feel safe.
"I didn't want these people's lives to be disrupted by constantly having different police officers there," Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore said Wednesday. "They already went through more than they should have on the horrible incident of December 14th."
Salvatore said the two officers quickly bonded with the Sandy Hook community.
But late last week, Monroe lost a police officer and the school lost a good friend when Panza left to start his new job with the Greenwich Police Department.
Panza, 39, was a carpenter with the Greenwich Department of Public Works Building, Construction and Maintenance Division for 12 years, before taking the training and being hired by the Monroe Police Department on July 19,2010.
"When he interviewed for the police position, particularly with the Board of Police Commissioners, he said one of his five year goals was to be working with youth," Salvatore recalled. "He had that opportunity with the move of this school to our town and he certainly made the best of it and performed admirably with traumatized students and staff. They’ll miss him as much as he’ll miss them. We wish him well."
Panza is a Greenwich native and the nephew of retired Greenwich Officer Joseph Panza, who still works with the department as a Special Police Officer.
Salvatore said other officers relieved Keeping and Panza at times, filling security shifts at Sandy Hook School, including detectives Kelly McFarland and Michael Sweeney. He said Sweeney volunteered to replace Panza, adding he's already known by parents, students and staff and should fit in well.
At meetings in town, Salvatore has said the Monroe has a problem retaining the officers it invests in for the training needed to do the job.
He said, "Unfortunately, all too frequently, officers, after several years on the job, take the experience we give them and training to another community who benefits from that acquisition — it's usually driven by higher salaries and more attractive benefits."