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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Police in schools initially resisted

Telegraph Editorial

When the Board of Aldermen meets Tuesday night, it will consider a resolution to transfer $250,000 into the Police Department’s overtime account to reverse some unpopular budgetary moves, including the reassignment of two school resource officers from the high schools.

Given the resolution to be introduced by Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire has six co-sponsors, it could be well on its way to the necessary 10 votes for passage.

But perhaps just as noteworthy is how popular school resource officers have become in the past decade or so, after initially running into resistance in some Greater Nashua communities in the early 2000s.

Consider:

 • When the idea was first proposed for Souhegan High School in 2002, it was met with opposition from students, teachers and residents. The school’s first school resource officer wouldn’t be hired until two years later.

 • When New Ipswich Police Chief Garrett Chamberlain first proposed hiring a school resource officer in 2003 to split time between Mascenic Regional High School and Boynton Middle School, he got a thumbs down from the Mascenic Regional School Board.

 • And when former Hollis Police Chief Richard Darling applied for a federal grant to cover the hiring of a school resource officer in 2004, it was greeted by a petition signed by 500 Hollis Brookline High School students against the plan.

Why the resistance?

For some, it was the prospect of having an armed officer inside the school. For others, the mere presence of an officer would jeopardize the spirit of trust between adults and teens in the school. Still others thought the schools were safe, so a full-time police presence wasn’t necessary.

Today, the vast majority of Greater Nashua high schools have at least one school resource officer. Nashua was among the first in the state to hire one in the 1990s, followed a few years later by Hudson, Merrimack, Milford and Litchfield, to name a few.

The massacre at Columbine High School in April 1999 is widely viewed as one of the key catalysts for placing school resource officers inside the nation’s schools. During that horrific incident, 12 students and one teacher were killed and 23 others were wounded before the two shooters – seniors at the Littleton, Colo., school – took their own lives.

Around the same time, the U.S. Justice Department under then-President Bill Clinton made millions of dollars available to communities under the Cops in Schools program, which provided up to $125,000 per officer over a three-year pilot period.

President George W. Bush would expand the program a few years later, and by 2005, the federal government had awarded roughly $750 million to more than 3,000 communities to hire some 6,500 officers.

In New Hampshire, as of fiscal year 2010, $5.5 million in federal funds had been used to hire 45 school resource officers across the state.

By and large, we believe this has been a beneficial program for the nation’s schools. Not only does it provide for a quick response should an emergency arise, but the officers help to build positive relationships between students and law enforcement by serving as teachers, counselors and mentors.

As such, we support efforts to restore the two positions to the city’s high schools, be it through a transfer from an appropriate account or a reprioritizing of available resources by the Police Department.