ELLSWORTH — A uniformed police officer is returning to the halls of Ellsworth High School this week thanks to local and federal funding, with a goal of keeping students and staff safe, building relationships within the school community and preventing criminal activity.
Officer Amie Torrey, a veteran police officer with 20 years of law enforcement experience, is set to begin working as school resource officer on Wednesday. She will be based at EHS but also will spend time at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School and at the Hancock County Technical Center.
The position comes as the result of a federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant in the amount of $125,000, which was awarded to Ellsworth and accepted by the City Council last fall. The city also is required to chip in $108,306. The $233,306 total will pay for the program for three years.
If the program is to continue beyond that point, the city will have to re-examine how it will be funded.
Interim Police Chief Glenn Moshier said Torrey has been a good officer since joining the Ellsworth department in 2008, that she is patient and that she has shown an ability to work well with children as well as adults.
“She has an understanding of the goals and desires of both the Police Department and the School Department,” Moshier said. “She’s excited to take on the role, and I expect she’ll be very successful.”
Superintendent Dan Higgins echoed Moshier’s assessment. He said Torrey will be “a good fit” for the position and said he believes she “is going to do an excellent job.”
Higgins, Moshier and Ellsworth High School Principal Dan Clifford made up the selection committee that chose Torrey for the job.
Moshier said Torrey’s primary focus will be keeping everyone in the school safe and the facility secure. That was something former Police Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore, who applied for the grant earlier in 2016, stressed previously.
An FBI veteran, Bickmore said school shootings and other similar incidents can happen anywhere, including communities like Ellsworth, and not just in big cities. He pointed to his own experience of responding to a school shooting in Chadron, Ohio, in 2012, in which three people were killed and three were wounded.
Chadron has a population of about 5,200 people, smaller than Ellsworth’s population of almost 7,900.
Torrey, who will remain a sworn police officer and member of the Ellsworth department while serving as the school resource officer, said she saw the position as “a great opportunity.”
As a mother of two school-age children herself, she said building relationships with children is important work. She said “if a kid doesn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone else, but can talk to” her in her capacity as school resource officer, than that is a good thing.
Higgins said Torrey’s presence in the schools means “more opportunities for students to become familiar with law enforcement officials and their role in the community.”
Moshier said part of Torrey’s mission will also be to “garner information that will allow us to be proactive” — for example, addressing drug activity — “before these things impact kids in school.”
Torrey will be responsible for running yet-to-be-developed programming for kids during the summer months. She will fill in to cover regular patrol shifts on snow days and other vacations and can also be called away from the school in the event of a major incident elsewhere in Ellsworth.
Torrey will attend training in New Hampshire for school resource officers, and also will visit other area schools that already have a resource officer to get ideas. She said each resource officer, however, has “got to make the program your own” and that she intends to do the same.
Moshier said Torrey was one of two Ellsworth officers to apply for the program. The department previously hired an additional patrol officer, so that the creation of this new position would not reduce the department’s strength while conducting routine law enforcement duties around the city.
The interim chief said Torrey will have a marked police cruiser at the school. The full uniform she will wear there will include everything patrol officers wear and carry, including a firearm, Taser and bulletproof vest.
Torrey worked for the Fairfield Police Department from 1997 to 2008 and spent her last six years there working with a police dog. A 1994 graduate of Ellsworth High School, she said taking this new position feels like “coming back home.”
Ellsworth has had a school resource officer before (Officer Gil Jameson served in that most recently prior to Torrey’s appointment) but has gone years without one. Resuming the program now, Higgins said, is a good thing for all involved.
“We view this as a great opportunity for the school system, the Police Department and the city,” he said.