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BPD to Deploy Resource Officers at Elementary Schools

September 13, 2019
Resource Officers at Elementary Schools

BENNINGTON - The Bennington Police Department is set to deploy part-time school resource officers at local elementary schools, per a unanimous decision of the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District board.

The board made the decision at its meeting Tuesday night. The police department was the only entity that submitted a response to the district's Request for Proposals for school resource officers at Bennington Elementary, Molly Stark Elementary, Monument Elementary and Woodford Hollow Elementary.

The police department's RFP response proposed three officers, each providing service at the schools four hours a day, at an hourly rate of $48. Monument and Woodford would split an officer.

The board chose to accept the BPD's proposal for organizing the effort, after brief presentations from Chief Paul Doucette and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Director of Finance and Operations Renee Gordon.

There was no RFP response from the Vermont State Police, and the sheriff's department felt they could not meet the minimum qualifications, so they also did not submit a proposal, Gordon said.

Doucette briefly explained his department's response to the RFP before the board voted.

"We took this very seriously," he said. The department doesn't yet have the staff to provide full-time school resource officers, but it plans to work on increasing staffing levels, he said.

He told the board he didn't want to go into too much detail on how that would work, as he still needs to talk with the Select Board.

"We feel it's extremely important to put Bennington police officers in the schools," he said. "There is a list of officers that are really interested in working within the schools."

He said the department has a great relationship with Mount Anthony Union Middle School, Mount Anthony Union High School and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, where it currently has officers in place - full-time at MAUMS, and part-time at MAUHS and the SVCDC. "I think that worked out pretty well," he said.

"We should have worked on it sooner," he said. "But I think that we have a good plan in place." Board member Cindy Brownell expressed concern that Pownal would not have a school resource officer under the proposal.

Answering a question from board member Susan Hoag, Doucette said that Pownal Elementary School is within his department's district. Officers who are Level 3 certified - as his entire department is - have authority anywhere in the state, he said.

"I didn't want to overextend myself and say, I can go to Shaftsbury, and I can go to Pownal," he said. "We would not be able to cover that. And I would be giving a false sense of hope to have that happen."

Doucette advised negotiating with the sheriff's department to have a Level 3 deputy in Pownal and Shaftsbury.

"I honestly cannot put somebody in Pownal when I would worry about Benn El and Molly and Monument and Woodford," he said. "Because that's close to home. Not to say that if there was a problem, that we would not shoot right down there."

Board Clerk Scott McEnaney asked Doucette if he would have the desire to meet the needs of Pownal and Shaftsbury schools, if he was able.

"It would be a big jump for us," Doucette replied. "It's not that I don't have the desire. I just think we need to start with three [officers] and see where we go."

He said he didn't want to go into details, but there was an incident at Benn El that could probably have been averted, if a school resource officer had been present.

"We are engaged," he said. "We want to engage the elementary schools. But we have to do it in small steps."

Jim Culkeen, superintendent of the SVSU, said he and Gordon intend to reach out to the sheriff's department and see if they could provide service, possibly in a part-time role.

"It's really a win-win for the police department and the schools, the faculty and staff, because safety is paramount," Doucette said. "We know what the world is come to."

By: Patricia LeBoeuf
Compliments of: The Bennington Banner