Bristol selectmen prepare case for school resource officer
May 19, 2011BRISTOL — The growing financial and physical strain on Bristol's Police Department as a result of calls from Newfound Regional High School and Middle School recently prompted the board of selectmen to arrange a special meeting with the Newfound School Board to discuss the idea of hiring a school resource officer, a position to be funded by all communities within the district.
During the board's regular meeting last Thursday evening, Chairman Rick Alpers announced that a joint meeting with the school board had been scheduled for Monday, May 23, at 7 p.m. in the high school library.
With Police Chief Mike Lewis also present at last week's meeting, Alpers suggested that the board map out a strategy for approaching the school board.
Having previously discussed the issue with Lewis, Selectman Jeff Shackett said he wanted to go in and present the school board with the data Lewis had supplied showing the number of calls his department responded to at the middle and high schools over the past year, the amount of man hours his officers spent on those cases, and where the students involved were from.
Asked to comment on the matter from his own perspective, Lewis said his department's primary concern is safety, and safety "costs money."
Explaining that the department has seen a steady increase in calls from the middle and high schools over the past four to five years, Lewis said that during September and October of 2010 alone, officers were called to the two schools on a daily basis.
The situation spiraled so far out of hand at one point, he said, that he called a meeting with administrators from both schools to draft a memorandum of understanding regarding what sorts of incidents the police should and should not be called for.
"Everything that happens in those two buildings is regional," Lewis said, explaining that many of the incidents his department has been called in to investigate originated at students' homes in surrounding communities, but became Bristol's responsibility by default because they were reported to officials at the middle and high schools.
It is not fair, he added, for taxpayers in Bristol to have to absorb the cost of investigations that originated outside the town's borders.
Statistics show, he went on, that school resource officers provide an enormous benefit to the districts that employ them, providing an in-house resource for students and helping to reduce repeat offenses.
In Newfound's case, he said, "the number's support that it's a need."
Alpers agreed that the numbers alone should give the school board pause.
"They have to see it if we show them the large numbers," he said.
Explaining that for him, the issue at hand is the district taking responsibility for what goes on within its schools, Shackett said that if a store owner were to keep leaving his door unlocked at night and calling the police to report that he had been robbed, it should be pointed out to that individual at some point that he needs to accept responsibility for his own property.
"You have a responsibility to take care of what you have there," he said.
With Alpers wondering aloud whether there would be any reason for the school board to react negatively to the proposal, Shackett said the only cause for concern he could think of would be finding a way to fund the position, with the budget cycle already concluded for the 2011-12 school year.
Asked whether there was any specific funding formula he would recommend, Lewis replied that in his experience, the formula tends to vary from one district to the next.
Right now, he added, it costs the Bristol Police Department roughly $69,400 a year to devote the amount of time and manpower required to investigations at the schools.
Ultimately, Lewis said, the situation comes down to what's reasonable and fair.
"I don't think there's a taxpayer anywhere [in the district] who'd disagree that there's a need for this," he added.
Shackett re-iterated that for him, the issue comes down to responsibility.
Right now, he said, "we're providing a service free of charge to the district," and the question is whether or not it is fair for any one community to absorb the cost of responding to calls at a regional school.
Lewis felt that when presented with the numbers, the school board would be hard pressed to disagree that there is a clear need for a resource officer.
"Reasonable people make reasonable decisions," he said.
A change of venue
During his bi-weekly report to the board, Town Administrator Michael Capone said he had inadvertently double-booked the Old Town Hall for the night of May 26, when representatives from Northern Pass LLC are scheduled to deliver a presentation on the project to the board.
In view of the fact that the presentation has been noticed as a simple 'nuts and bolts' rundown on the project for their benefit, with no opportunity for public input, the board decided to change the location of the presentation from the Old Town Hall to their meeting room at the town office building.