Sandy Hook School, Monroe Lose a Valuable Police Officer

Michael Panza has been hired by the Greenwich Police Department. His last day in Monroe was on April 5.

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."

Jacob's Mama April 10, 2013 at 08:46 PM
there is a spelling error. "Salvatore said other officers relieved Keeping and PANZA", not Lanza.
Bill Bittar (Editor) April 10, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Yeah just caught that. Of all possible typos.
Steve Kirsch April 10, 2013 at 09:47 PM
We have to face the reality that if we don't provide higher pay, we are going to continue to waste money on training only to see these people leave for higher paying jobs.
Theresa O April 10, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Michael Panza is a good man and a good officer. One of the best parts of living in a smaller town is really getting to know and bond with the members of the communty. It is such a shame that we keep losing great assets of this town because we refuse to pay them at a comparable rate to other towns. We wish him well in all his future endeavors!
Alex April 11, 2013 at 12:01 AM
I think we pay well enough if you ask me. The average police officer salary is $99,858! Maybe something else is causing people to leave? See the salaries for yourself: http://www.monroecourier.com/6728/what-do-towns-top-employees-earn/
jon watson April 11, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Not to make a pun of it, but you are on the money. 100,000 for a cop is a great salary especially in Monroe where the most frequent police effort is giving a ticket to someone going 35 in a 30 mile zone. And yes cops probably love going to Stamford or Greenwich where the overtime frequently boosts salaries to over 200,000. Just let them go. How much training do you need to give out a speeding ticket to a soccer mom driving a high end SUV anyway?
Theresa O April 11, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Did you read the explanation of how they are paid that much? Did you see that it is not even the towns dollars that fully contribute to those numbers? Do you know how many hours it takes for them to achieve that dollar amount? Do you realize that our max base pay is the starting rate in other towns? While I admit that I do not know how this website gets their statistics, a quick search that compares salaries between Greenwich and Monroe police salaries illustrates this point. http://statetroopersalary.com/CT/Monroe/salary/Police-Salary Perhaps a more reliable source is actual police officers that have repeatedly said this over the years. If the local force, and the chief of police express this point of view, why is it that you disagree with it?
jon watson April 11, 2013 at 01:51 AM
We seem to be competitive with Stamford http://statetroopersalary.com/CT/Stamford/salary/Police-Salary and Greenwich http://statetroopersalary.com/CT/Greenwich/salary/Police-Salary and those "cities" actually have crime and a very different tax base than Monroe.
LittleTalks April 11, 2013 at 02:44 AM
And maybe those other towns can afford higher salaries because they aren't investing in training. This is a common problem in all industries today, people have lost all sense of loyalty. Monroe gave this man a job when he needed one, they trained him investing time and money to make him a valuable asset, and as soon as he gets there, he bails to make a few bucks more. In exchange for training, they should need to sign an X year commitment. Or if they leave within X years of training, they owe back a prorated amount of that cost. Unemployment is high, we can find people willing to work for $100k, good honest hardworking people I am sure. We need to weed out the selfish folks, a contract will solve that.
Alex April 11, 2013 at 02:48 AM
Theresa O: It doesn't matter whether its 100% town dollars or not, the average salary is nearly 100K, I don't support any further increases to that average. We are not a high crime town, 100K average salary is more than enough for a town like Monroe. Also: "If the local force, and the chief of police express this point of view, why is it that you disagree with it?" Are you serious? It's in their best interest to increase the police salaries as much as possible as would anyone in that position. If your boss ever asked if you needed a raise would you say no, I'm fine? I can't believe we're even having the discussion of whether 100K average police salary is adequate. Insane.
QWERTY April 11, 2013 at 03:11 AM
Do we have any statistics on the number of officers that get an entry level job with Monroe and then leave only a few years later? I can't imagine it's very many. Monroe can't compete with Greenwich. Plus, there aren't many openings at higher paying departments. Officers also forgo any accrued pension obligations once they leave their current position. In addition, they also start at the bottom salary step. Mr. Panza is essentially starting all over again minus the academy training. And I'd imagine the commute to be more difficult for most officers. The choice isn't as easy as it may seem. I'd be more concerned with nepotism in this particular case.
Rt25 April 11, 2013 at 11:53 AM
I've had jobs, received specialized training and moved on to better paying positions my entire life. It is a fact of life. You take what you can get while in a position and better yourself whenever you can. This isn't unique to just police work. It is in every employment position.,
Mary Poppins April 12, 2013 at 01:48 AM
I agree with RT25. It happens all the time, in all fields of work. But enough with the 'we don't pay officers enough'. Come on, this isn't Bridgeport or New Haven. One would hope a person being offered any position in the town should know what the salary is before they accept the job, and if they accept the job then they are also accepting the salary that is offered.
Mrs. Panza April 12, 2013 at 02:43 PM
My heart is heavy in reading all these comments. I can tell you a Average police officer for the Monroe does not make $100k if you check the salaries you would know that! Maybe attacking someone character or using them for a political stance is the Monroe way. I know that Officer Panza has made the hardest choice of his life by leaving! I will choose to believe that people who have never met Officer Panza are the ones making judgements about him and his choices. I know him,I know the sacrifices his family has given for Monroe, I know the pain he has had to witness, I know that he has good friends and bonds that won't end and I also know that he is grateful and proud of his time in Monroe! There is a saying that no one cares about the police until they need one!
jim laguardia April 12, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Unfortunately this "is the Monroe way"... people will come out in droves to belittle a real human being or even a whole section of the comunity.
betsypt April 12, 2013 at 11:14 PM
Has any one of you ever taken an entry level position and then moved on? My guess is most have. Most could not have gotten the positions they currently hold were it not for experience and training recieved in previous postions. Remember that things like the cost and quality of health insurance and life insurance are factors as well. And that the average salary listed in the article quoted was the average of the 20 highest paid 'town side" employees.


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