Lack of officers in schools a concern in Londonderry
LONDONDERRY - Last week's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., came up during a public hearing on next year's municipal budget Monday night, when Londonderry's lack of school resource officers was noted with concern.
A potential warrant article asking voters to consider the addition of a second school resource officer, at a cost of $101,000, was discussed at length during this week's Town Council meeting. If approved, the additional officer would have a 3-cent per $1,000 impact on residential tax rates. Retired Londonderry police officer Daniel Bouchard told the council he supported the proposal, and hoped it was the beginning of some lasting changes for the future.
"I support this and would like to see us do even more," Bouchard said. "At one time, we had four school resource officers in the school. Now we're down to one."
With several retirements and budget cuts over the past several years, the Londonderry Police Department currently has just one full-time school resource officer.
Councilor Tom Dolan noted that the 2013 warrant specifically calls for just a single school resource officer next year, though he said citizens have the option of asking for more than one school resource officer during the town deliberative session this spring.
A parent, Anthony Palma, told the board he'd just learned about the resource officer shortage when he called Principal Carol Mack Friday afternoon. Palma said he'd initially called Mack to address safety concerns after that morning's tragedy in Connecticut, but learning about the school resource officer shortage deeply concerned him as a parent of four. "I think we need to be proactive instead of reactive," Palma said. "(In Connecticut), it sounds like this school did everything right, but it still happened there. We need to get back up to four resource officers and I certainly wouldn't mind paying higher taxes for it."
Police Chief William Hart, Londonderry's acting town manager, said a new school resource officer would be a fully-trained police officer and would be ready "to do whatever any trained officer is needed to do." Hart said the town wouldn't "go lower than two school resource officers on his watch" next year. "Is there any lack of clarity?" he asked councilors.
Later, the board also shared details of Articles 9 and 10, the proposed agreements between the town and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Police and Safety Employees Local 3657 (AFSCME), and the Londonderry Administrative Employees Association (LEEA). AFSCME encompasses all regular, permanent members of the town's police department, including patrolmen, sergeants, patrol supervisors, juvenile officers, sergeants, animal control officers and assistants, telecommunications operators, telecommunications supervisors, records supervisors and clerks and detectives.
The proposed agreement outlines a five-year plan starting July 1, 2013. Union members weren't given a raise this current year, though the new agreement outlines gradual pay increases in the coming five years.