SEDGWICK — Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane outlined the role of school resource officers at the Nov. 15 meeting of the Union 76 Board.
“Ellsworth, Bucksport and MDI each have one: Officer Tim Bland. They wouldn’t give him up for anything,” Kane said. “He works at MDI and at Conners Emerson Elementary School (in Bar Harbor).”
Officer Eric Marcel is at Bucksport High School. Officer Amie Torrey is at Ellsworth High School.
A school resource officer’s (SRO) job is not about policing hallways and playgrounds.
“It’s establishing rapport,” Kane said. “It’s breaking down that barrier between law enforcement and children.”
“Too many people think this officer is in there as a disciplinarian,” Kane said. “Not so. He’s a resource to the schools. That officer is there to assist in the school: teaching, working with young people, answering questions. They are not there for discipline.”
A bit of history: Kane had an unsuccessful attempt to bring school resource officers to Union 76, Union 93 and Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24). Superintendents in those districts had sought to bring in officers and offered funding for the positions. The Hancock County Commissioners, however, voted against including the officers in Kane’s budget for 2019.
“I’m not here looking for commitment or anything,” Kane said.
Kane explained how the discussion about school resource officers for the western and eastern school districts in Hancock County transpired.
“After the Parkland [Fla.] shooting this spring, [Union 93 Superintendent] Mark Hurvitt contacted me and wanted to know if they wanted to get an SRO, what the cost would be,” Kane said.
Meanwhile, Hurvitt and Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington decided to cooperate and share the salary of a school resource officer across both unions, the sheriff said.
Then RSU 24 (eastern Hancock County) heard about the plan and also wanted to participate.
The superintendents would fund the salary of the proposed two school resource officers and the county would outfit the officers and provide the training.
“I thought that was one heck of a deal for both of us,” Kane said.
Kane presented the idea to the commissioners in the spring.
“To say the response was lukewarm is being polite; it wasn’t,” the sheriff said.
“[Chairman] Antonio [Blasi] said put in your budget and we’ll discuss it,” Kane said.
One commissioner, former Sheriff Bill Clark, was “solidly behind it” and two commissioners, Blasi and Percy “Joe” Brown, were against it, Kane said. At a meeting earlier in November, the commissioners “voted to reopen the budget and cut it beyond bare bones.”
“Is this a perfect plan? Kane asked. “Far from it.”
The sheriff said people ask him how he can guarantee the officer will be in the school if something happens.
“I can’t do that,” said Kane. “I can’t guarantee that, but it’s a start.”
A school resource officer is also specially trained, in addition to having gone through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
“This is going to be an officer that wants to be involved with young people, that wants to be involved with school safety,” Kane said.
Community School District 13 (CSD 13) Board member Skip Greenlaw said, “The money’s there. It was approved by the voters. Why don’t we talk with Scott about doing something with the money that’s there?”
CSD 13 Chairwoman Jane Osborne said she has heard about students being arrested or searched without their parents’ knowledge.
“There’s this great document out there called the Constitution that restricts what law enforcement can do when it comes to search and seizure,” the sheriff explained.
“If it’s an emergency — I just saw a kid put a knife in his pocket — we’re getting that knife,” Kane said. “He probably won’t be charged because that’s illegal search and seizure.”
“When it comes to a student, a teacher has more authority to search than I do,” Kane said. “They can search a backpack. They can search a locker.”
Superintendent Elkington, who had a nationally recognized school resource officer of the year at his last district, said a school resource officer always asks teachers or administrators “do you want me to step in?” before doing so.
“Only one time an officer jumped in and that’s when I was being attacked,” Elkington said.
Kane said the school resource officer will maintain a log of his or her activities, which is available to the board.
“We would do your school safety plan,” he said. “We would help with your lockdown drills.”
Greenlaw suggested that board members visit Amie Torrey, Ellsworth High School’s school resource officer.
“She has these relationships with these kids,” Greenlaw said. “They come to her with problems.”
Kane said his next budget cycle starts in August. He said if board members are in favor of having a school resource officer that they should attend a commissioners’ board meeting.
The first school resource officer in the country was introduced in 1960, Kane said. In 1968, Congress began offering funding for the program.