Epping considers adding resource officer at schools
EPPING - One day before Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school, Epping police Capt. Jason Newman approached Town Administrator Gregory Dodge about the possibility of restoring a school resource officer's position that's been vacant for the past 10 years.
Newman, Police Chief Michael Wallace, and Sgt. Rich McFadden, who once held the position, have already talked with school administration about the need for an officer in Epping schools, but the discussion has taken on a new sense of urgency since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"In light of what happened Friday, the chief and I decided it was time to act now, to bring it to the town for a vote," Newman said Wednesday.
While the majority of selectmen agreed Monday to place a warrant article seeking to hire a school resource officer for the 2013-14 school year on the warrant for voters to consider in March, they voted 3-1 against recommending the proposal.
The article seeks $35,570 to cover salary and benefits for half of next year and then $76,350 for all of 2014.
The officer would have an office at the high school, but would serve all grade levels. Because the elementary school is located behind the middle and high school, which share a building, McFadden said it's easy for the officer to have a presence in all school buildings on a daily basis.
Selectmen who voted against supporting the article said they're worried about the cost of hiring another officer.
Selectman Karen Falcone, board chairman, said taxpayers could see a combined $2 increase on the tax rate next year based on the proposed school and town budgets.
"We are choking this year. . I hesitate because of the money issue, I truly do. I don't have a problem with the position. I have a problem with saying, 'Oh sure, let's spend more money.' I'm really trying to keep us in check and I'm paddling upstream," she said at Monday's board meeting.
McFadden served as school resource officer until 2002, when the police department pulled him out because a patrol officer was deployed after Sept. 11 and the police department was short-handed, Newman said. The officer was never replaced.
If the position is approved, the officer would be armed and dressed in full uniform with a marked cruiser parked outside.
Newman said police are often called to the schools to handle juvenile issues, ranging from truancy to behavior problems. Police spend most afternoons at the high school as well, helping with traffic at the end of the school day.
The school officer would also serve as the drug abuse resistance education teacher and be able to build up a rapport with students, McFadden said, adding that the presence of an officer would also likely deter crime and other juvenile problems.
"The law enforcement part would be the smallest part of the day-to-day operations," he said.
Selectman Jim McGeough was the only selectman who voted to recommend the proposal.
As a teacher in Manchester, McGeough said he has seen firsthand the benefits of having an officer in the schools.
"The one we have is young. He goes around and talks to the kids. He's visible all over the building. He has a great rapport with the kids at my school," he said.
- - - - - - - -
Jason Schreiber may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.