2018-04-13 / Front Page

Districts weigh additional police presence in terms of safety, costs

BY DARCIE MOORE, CHRIS QUATTRUCCI and NATHAN STROUT
Times Record Staff

School resource officers — police personnel trained to patrol schools, usually armed — are often seen as a first line of defense against a threat to a public school, including against an active shooter.

In the aftermath of February’s mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives, The Times Record examined how school resource officers are used in local districts, whether school and police officials are looking to increase police presence and the associated costs.

Lisbon School District

The question of safety has loomed over officials in Lisbon as they work on their school budget. That includes whether to add another school resource officer.

Lisbon currently has one officer for four schools.

“One of the challenges in a small community like Lisbon is always going to be the cost,” said Police Chief Marc Hagan, “what people are willing to pay or see for an increase in taxes.”

The school department would pay about 75 percent the cost of a new resource officer, with the police department shouldering the rest.

Hagan said the cost to add an officer with the experience needed would be $84,707, benefits included.

“From a practicality standpoint, we can’t put a new officer in the schools,” he said. “I would want an officer with four years experience minimum in the schools.”

Hagan, however, also wants to hire another patrol officer this year, and he said he couldn’t combine the duties of both a patrol officer and that of a school resource officer.

“We usually tell them to take vaca- tion time in the summer when school is out,” Hagan said. “You have them available in the summer, but that’s also when they take their vacation time.”

Officials have also debated providing an office at the school for a patrol officer to do paperwork. That would increase police presence at the school, but Hagan said that the impact would be minimal. There is typically only one patrol officer on during the day, he said, which doesn’t allow for much time for administrative work.

A part-time officer couldn’t be used because hours would be limited daily in order to cover the whole 180- day school year.

Superintendent Richard Green anticipates a decision regarding a resource officer in May.

Brunswick School Department

Adding to the ranks of its school resource officers is not in Brunswick’s plans.

“We can’t afford them,” said Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said, noting that it currently costs about $90,000 for each one; the school department and town both pay for one officer. “With budgets as tight as they are, we probably couldn’t afford it, at least in this year’s budget.”

Brunswick has two resource officers. One serves the high school. The other serves the district’s two elementary schools and Brunswick Junior High School, where the officer is based.

Perzanoski couldn’t say whether adding an additional officer would be a priority in the future. He noted that an additional resource officer would cost $90,000 in expenses each for the town and the school.

There is also a question of whether more officers are needed.

“We want to make sure all of the schools are safe,” said Perzanoski, “but at the same time we’re not necessarily sure a police presence all of the time, especially at some of the elementary schools, is something that is necessary. Maybe in the future, but right now we’re still discussing the merits of that.

“Some people will say in this day in age it’s an absolute necessity and others say, ‘I don’t want my kids going to school with armed policeman at the door,’” he added. “It’s a discussion worth having but at least for this year, we’re keeping the status quo. So far it’s worked pretty well.”

Like Perzanoski, Brunswick Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz questioned the need for designated resource officers at the elementary schools.

“You don’t really want to pay this type of money for a glorified security guard,” he said. “If you just want an armed person to take on a shooter, you don’t need the experience of SROs.”

Perzanoski said police aren’t involved in discipline at the schools unless a crime is committed.

“I think the impact comes from the relationships that are developed between the officer and the kids and that parlays into their relationships with other officers and other local officials in the community,” he said. “It’s all about teaching, involvement and civic duty and public service, I think that’s important.”

Maine School Administrative District 75

Superintendent Brad Smith said Maine School Administrative District 75 is taking a measured approach to school safety. While it hasn’t budgeted for extra security, he anticipates state or federal funding may come to boost that.

With safety in mind, the district is taking a second look at plans for the new high school it’s starting construction on this summer.

“We’ve doubled back and looked at the design of the new high school,” said Smith. “A lot of the safety details are something the architect does not want to share publicly.”

He anticipates safety improvements in the design alone compared to the old school.

Smith noted that most acts of school violence come from within its community. He said his district will continue to invest in resources related to the mental health and well-being of students.

“We’re going to be very thoughtful, very measured in how we respond,” said Smith, “but that’s a place we want to pour our energy.”

Regional School Unit 1

There is just one school resource officer in Regional School Unit 1, who works primarily at Morse High School. School Resource Officer Chuck Reece, however, also spends time in the district’s middle schools.

“We obviously would love to have more, to work more with our middle schools and to just be a resource. We don’t have it in our projected budget right now,” said Superintendent Patrick Manuel.

Bath Police Chief Michael Field said the position was first put in place following the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, and was made possible through government grants. The position was eliminated a few years ago, but re-instituted when Manuel took over as superintendent.

“We fought hard to get it back in the budget and, for me, it’s been a tremendous position for us,” said Manuel, “because not only does he help with security, safety, discipline, but he’s teaching classes, being a presence in the school, getting to know students, being proactive so students will come to see him if they have a question of if they want to confide in him.”

Reece is the coach of varsity boys soccer at Morse, which Manuel noted allows students to see a police officer in a different light. He also gives staff first responder training and researches additional security measures.

“Our school resource officer with the high school has worked very very well,” said Field. “A lot of that reason is because we have a really good relationship with the (district).”

The cost of the position is covered by the police department and school district.

“He’s more than just an armed police officer in the school,” noted Field. “Of course, he is there for security reasons. That is part of his job.”

Field noted that they’re working to ramp up security efforts in the wake of the Parkland shooting, but so far the department has not discussed adding another school resource officer.

“I’m not saying there’s no need, but we haven’t discussed that yet,” said Field. “I like what we’ve got going on now … we want to make sure (adding another position) is something that we really need.”

Regional School Unit 5

There is one school resource officer at Freeport High School, who also supports the other five other schools in Regional School Unit 5 as needed. There aren’t plans to add more, said Superintendent Becky Foley, noting the cost to have an officer in each building.

“The high school is the school with the greatest need,” Foley said. “ Our SRO, Mike McManus, collaborates and is considered to be one of our staff. He is very approachable and students seek him out. He is supportive of administration and teachers when dealing with student behavior or safety concerns. He is very skilled at de-escalating challenging situations involving students.”

Freeport Police Chief Susan Nourse said her department would support another resource officer if RSU 5 and the town considered adding one. She hasn’t done an assessment to determine how many resource officers would be ideal for Freeport.

“It is helpful to have an officer on site at the high school to address issues as they become known and as a visible deterrent to crime and other misbehavior,” she said. “ The students have the benefit of getting to know that officer and are more likely to approach them if they have a problem or concern.”

While the district isn’t considering adding more resource officers, the school board has requested safety workshops, which will likely start next year. It also has an active safety committee that meets regularly to consider how it can make the schools more secure.

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