SOUTH PORTLAND — Alfred Giusto always knew he wanted to be a police officer.
“I don’t know what it was, whether it was cop shows on television, or that my best friend and I always played cops and robbers,” the Long Island, New York, native said.
That childhood friend, Joseph, also became a police officer, where he and Giusto grew up.
Giusto has been a South Portland school resource officer since 2008, with four of those years spent at the high school. “I’m a senior now,” he joked.
This year, he was also named the Police Department’s Officer of the Year. He will be honored by the City Council Feb. 20.
Giusto, who previously operated a martial arts academy in Brooklyn, New York, moved to Maine to be closer to his wife’s family. He attended the state’s criminal justice academy and joined the Topsham Police Department, where he often responded to incidents in the school system, and also did community outreach work.
Giusto, whose father was a teacher, has taught guitar and martial arts, so he said he is familiar with a collaborative, teaching environment. “It’s like a little village,” he said of the school community, where he works with students, teachers, staff and social workers.
“I want to be fair, just, and help kids,” he said, adding the position, focusing on juvenile justice, is rehabilitative in nature.
A typical day includes counseling students, staff and parents about the law and how it affects them, working with students in crisis, or connecting students with resources.
“Officer Giusto has thrived in his assignment … and acts as a role model and is able to maintain a rapport with the students while also addressing issues, taking reports, investigating complaints, and disseminating juvenile and officer safety information,” Police Chief Edward Googins said in a press release. “He has an understanding of the unique issues, processes, and options involved in the juvenile justice system and uses discretion in a manner that ensures fairness.”
The high school has on a intervention policy, and partners with community group Opportunity Alliance to provide an education program on the effects of drugs and alcohol. If students who consume drugs or alcohol attend the program after, they are not referred to the court system.
Giusto said suspending students for as much as 10 days doesn’t help situations, and he prefers to work with students informally before filing formal complaints that can remain on their record.
He said the education program does more to aid students and help them make better-informed choices, both as adolescents and young adults.
Goals for the future Giusto said he would like to implement include creating a self-defense course for girls preparing for college. He said he would like to offer the course during the week to make it most accessible to students.
South Portland Police Officer Alfred Giusto, at South Portland High School, has been named the department’s Officer of the Year. He will be recognized at the Feb. 20 City Council meeting.