DARIEN — After graduating from Saint Anselm College, James Palmieri didn’t think he wanted to go into law enforcement. The Old Saybrook native worked in commercial real estate in Hartford for about four years before realizing office life wasn’t for him. He applied to police department jobs and worked in Monroe for about two years before coming to Darien.

The Trumbull resident worked patrol about five years before deciding on a whim to apply to become the first school resource officer at Darien High School. Palmieri worked with the administration and guidance counselors to assist students going through a hard time before they got into trouble with the legal system, a job he said he could have done for the rest of his career.

However, in March, Palmieri decided to move up the ranks of the department, becoming the public information officer — the spokeman for the police department — and a detective with the youth division. The 36-year-old recently established the town’s first juvenile review board to help devise punishments for first-time juvenile offenders in town without sending them into the legal system.

When he’s not spending time with his two young daughters, golfing or working on home improvement projects, Palmieri has found he enjoys working with town teenagers to help them cope with their problems in a way that teaches them to learn from their mistakes — something he still gets to do as the new youth division detective.

Q: What made you want to apply for the school resource officer position?

A: It was funny. Initially, I wasn’t going to. I was sort of still at the beginning of my police career, so I thought it wouldn’t be as exciting. But then I thought about it and at literally the last minute right before applications were due, I decided to apply for it. It was probably one of the best moves I made in my police career. I loved it.

Q: What was it like working in the high school everyday and how is it different from regular patrol work?

A: When you’re a cop on patrol, you’re only interacting with people when there’s some sort of issue. Even in a town like Darien, when you show up at a house party, you’re not exactly making friends with kids and when you go to somebody’s house on a domestic or pulling them over in a car, it’s always this certain negative interaction.

Working in the high school was honestly refreshing for me because as a police officer, you sort of get this jaded view, because every time you’re dealing with somebody, they’re angry with you or they’re mad about what you’re doing. You seem like this unwanted entity. But to go to the high school and deal with kids in a positive way was really refreshing for me.

Dealing with kids over and over again in a negative way, you start to have a certain view of kids in the town. Going to the high school was eye opening for me as well.

Q: What’s the difference between your position now and what you were doing at the high school?

A: At the high school, I was at the front end of a child’s issues. I’d be involved more early on when maybe the kid starts having issues in school — maybe the kid goes to the guidance counselor and says their parents are having problems or something happened. I’d hopefully get involved at that point before police involvement.

Now, I tend to come after if a kid gets in trouble or has issues with their parents. I find out about it now because the police have gone to the house or if a kid is going to get arrested or summoned. That’s my job now.

Q: What were some of the highlights or most memorable moments during your time as a school resource officer?

A: Seeing kids at the end of their four years graduate and thanking me. It sounds really, really corny and cliche, but I’ve had alumni get in touch with me and say, “Thank you.”

Kids that we had issues with for four straight years that had a really tough time call me and say, “Thank you. You really helped me grow up.” I imagine that’s what teachers get a lot of and that’s probably why a lot of them enjoy their jobs. It’s really, really fulfilling.

When you do regular police work, it’s like you deal with somebody at their worst and you don’t see them again. Here, I got to follow kids through their issues and see them come out on the other end better.

Q: You’ve worked a lot with teens in town. How would you describe them in terms of some of their strengths and issues you’ve seen them struggle with?

A: This is going to be really beating a dead horse, but the thing that plagues Darien kids is their successes in anything — athletics, academics. There’s this huge drive for kids to be good at things and that’s great for kids who are naturally good at things. The problem becomes when you’re mediocre.

We just had an issue a couple of weeks ago with a girl we caught with Adderall pills she didn’t have a prescription for. She came right out and told the cop, “It’s because I have tests coming up.” This is something that’s specific more to Darien than other towns. Kids are abusing narcotics to do better academically and I’m sure to some degree it happens in other towns, but I don’t hear about it like I hear about in this town. I think that’s one thing.

I think that goes hand-in-hand with any kind of substance abuse. Kids in town, based on what I know, the ones that do drink, drink pretty heavily. It’s part of what happens in any town, but I think it happens quite a bit in Dari en.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata