February 14

New Kennebec County sheriff’s program puts police in rural schools

Officers have been assigned schools, where they interact with students, teachers and parents.

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Picard spoke Wednesday night with school administrators, teachers and parents at a parent-teacher organization meeting in Albion, explaining the importance of police establishing relationships — and communication — with students.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans Aaron Moody, a deputy with the Kennebec County Sheriff's office and his partner Striker, at Lawrence High School in Fairfield on Friday. Deputy Moody is the district's school resource officer.

School Resource Deputy

Duties of a school resource deputy:

• Provides law enforcement and police services to the school, school grounds and areas adjacent to the school.

• Works to prevent juvenile delinquency through close contact and positive relationships with students.

• Establishes and maintain a close partnership with school administrators in order to provide for a safe school environment.

• Is visible within the school community. Attend and participate in school and after school functions.

• Develops and implement classes in law related education to support the educational efforts of the school.

• Initiates interaction with students in the classroom and general areas of the school building.

Source: National Association of School Resource Officers

Picard, who has developed a School Resource Deputy Program for rural schools in Kennebec County, wants to change the way people view the presence of police at local schools, particularly in the wake of high-profile school shootings.

“What I want is for parents, when they see a cruiser parked outside of a school, not to wonder what went wrong,” Picard said. “I want them to feel that this school is safe.”

The program has been incorporated into deputies’ regular duties and is being offered at no cost to the rural schools. The time officers spend in schools varies according to schedules.

Picard said the sheriff’s deputies have embraced the program.

“The program is a shift in focus. It’s a shift in resources, from being reactionary to being proactive,” he said. “What I challenged each deputy with is, ‘How soft of a target will you allow your school to be?’ It’s an incentive to get to the schools.”

Many larger school districts, including Waterville and Winslow, have dedicated school resource officers from their local police departments. And at a time of tight budgets, most rural communities don’t have their own police departments and don’t have a dedicated school resource officer.

Picard developed the program at the behest of Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, who challenged the patrol division to devise a way to spend more time in schools and make school safety a priority. In October, Picard initiated the effort.

“We developed it, took ideas from the deputies and we kicked it off the first week of February,” Picard said.

Letters from Liberty and Picard were sent to the 25 rural schools the program covers and posters were hung in school lobbies announcing the project.

School officials have praised the effort.

Pia Holmes, principal of Manchester and Mount Vernon elementary schools, said she is delighted with the new program because the deputies are getting to know students and staff, learning the school layout, attending and taking part in school functions and teaching law-related classes.

Above all, the increased law enforcement presence provides a greater sense of security at the elementary schools, Holmes said.

“I think in a time when our resources are controlled by finances and some of the resources are drying up for schools and families and municipalities — to be able to have a program like this available is very beneficial,” Holmes said. “To me, it’s wonderful arrangement.”

The deputies involved in the program are local residents and have strong ties to their communities and schools, according to Liberty. Every deputy in the county volunteered to adopt at least one school to mentor students and improve school security, he said.

Sheriff’s officials from all levels — deputies, detectives, sergeants, and even Liberty — are working in schools as part of the program.

Liberty said that schools and law enforcement agencies must be creative in protecting schools at a time when financial resources are limited.

“The School Resource Deputy Program is a low cost, no cost approach that assigns each deputy to a school to build relationships, identify methods to better secure our schools and provide an enhanced law enforcement resource to our schools,” he said. “The deputies are given much latitude to work with the schools to identify the needs of each individual school and provide necessary solutions. The deputies are eager to enhance the safety of our children. Since the beginning of the year, the deputies have visited their schools 256 times in this effort.”

(Continued on page 2)

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