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Tech school seeks cop

Supt. wants officer to improve security

TURNERS FALLS — There may soon be a new cop on the beat, in the hallways of the Franklin County Technical School.

Superintendent James Laverty said a school resource officer is the next step in the school’s efforts to tighten security, as districts around the state have done in the year following the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Laverty presented the move as more about protecting students than arresting them.

An in-school police presence has become rare in the county, but Laverty said the technical school is in a unique position because it is open to the public during school hours.

As of last year, all doors are locked after the start of school, Laverty said, and are now locked 24/7 with a video monitor and remote lock system, but visitors come for the school’s apprentice restaurant, beauty parlor and auto shop, where students practice their trades.

“To try to be a secure building but still have members of the public come in is a delicate balance,” Laverty said.

Montague Chief of Police Charles “Chip” Dodge III presented the same view to the Board of Selectmen on Monday.

“They’re not having any problems; they don’t want somebody up there that’s going to enforce the law, strictly,” Dodge said.

“We’re not looking at a police officer coming in here to be Rambo or anything like that, but to be an additional resource,” Laverty said.

Laverty said he was not concerned that a police presence could criminalize situations otherwise dealt with by staff, such as a hallway scuffle between students.

“No, the police officer would only become involved in anything like that at the request of administration,” Laverty said.

The officer would carry the usual equipment, including a handgun, but would not wear the full uniform in order to present a more approachable presence, Laverty said, and student discipline would remain the purview of teachers and administrators.

The school has already begun hiring off-duty officers as a part-time presence, as of Monday, but Laverty said he wants a stable presence the students will recognize and incorporate into the community.

Dodge brought the request to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, asking for their approval to bring the proposal to a town meeting.

The proposal is for a contract between the town and school district, hiring a new officer to be stationed at the school with the school agreeing to pay every facet of the new employee’s cost, from training through salary, benefits and any potential insurance liability or severance pay.

Dodge said he was enthusiastic about the proposal because it would provide him with a 16th officer during school breaks, at no cost to the department. That officer could be assigned to a number of community policing projects he had begun to compile, Dodge said.

The Board of Selectmen endorsed the idea, provided the school district assumes all costs and the move meets with town meeting approval.

The cost of the move depends on the experience level of the new hire. The latest hire by the Montague Police Department started at $21.09 an hour on the first step of the department pay grade.

The time needed to hire a new officer and put them through the police academy and any additional youth training means the full-time school resource officer would not be in place immediately, if approved. Laverty said he hopes to have a new hire on board by the beginning of the next school year.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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