News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 22, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, November 22, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, November 22, 2018
School districts consider role, issues of school resource officer

Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane

Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane addresses the Union 76 board November 15 in Sedgwick. To his right are CSD board members Skip Greenlaw and Liz Perez.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

At recent School Union board meetings, Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane discussed the funding and role of a law enforcement officer specially trained to address safety issues in schools. Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington and Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt had discussed the idea with Kane and the county commissioners after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in March.

However, so far the county commissioners’ response to adding funds to the sheriff’s department budget to cover training and police cruisers has been “lukewarm,” Kane said. Under the proposed plan, the school districts would cover salary and benefits for the full-time school resource officer.

While covering the eight schools from Stonington to Castine of the two school unions was a large area for one SRO, with no guarantee that the SRO would be present when needed, “it’s a start,” Kane said.

Currently there are 68 school resource officers installed in Maine schools. Officers follow department and school policies and procedures, Kane said, and do not enforce discipline but address safety issues, such as active shooter drills, crime and drugs, as well as “break the barrier” between youth and police officers by establishing a rapport.

Neighboring school districts with SROs, Bucksport, Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, have responded positively to their presence, Kane said. “This is going to be an officer that wants to work with young people,” he said.

School resource officers are armed, as required for any officer in uniform, Kane said, in order to be able to respond to an immediate threat.

“I’m 100 percent opposed to arming teachers and principals in the classroom,” he said. “Your responsibility is to teach, ours is safety, I don’t think those paths should cross.”

An SRO officer will question a student without a parent or guardian present in an “absolute emergency” while efforts are made to locate the parent or guardian, but “a teacher has more authority than an SRO does” to search students, he responded to board members’ questions.

“This is preventative,” Frank Bianco (Brooklin) said. “It’s incredibly inexpensive insurance. You’re catching things before they occur.”

With a new county commissioner taking office January 1, Kane said funding the sheriff’s department share of the cost is still a possibility. He came to the board, and to the Union 93 board earlier that evening, knowing schools were preparing to begin crafting 2019-20 budgets.

Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said having a resource officer available to the 10 schools is a great idea but complicated by the different budget cycles of the schools and the county commissioners, and by politics.

“The whole thing started as a simple idea and it’s gotten to be not so simple,” Hurvitt said. “There are a lot of moving parts. I’ll be working with Chris [Elkington] and Scott [Kane] but I just don’t know the path forward right now.”

Hurvitt said he favored having the SRO be a union budget item “but it might be that some [U93] schools will not be in favor. … There are 23 board members and a variety of thoughts.”

Sheriff Kane is ready to act, if the schools do add funding for an SRO. “I will fight tooth and nail to get you what you want,” he said. “But we’ll need support.”