Lawmakers consider bill to require school police visits

By Fran Gonzalez | May 05, 2019

A new bill aimed at improving school safety, requiring weekly visits by law enforcement officials, is currently being discussed in committee at the State House.

Sponsored by Rep. Sherman Hutchins, R-Penobscot, LD 1182, "An Act To Improve School Safety by Requiring Law Enforcement Visits," would require a public school to be visited at least twice a week by a law enforcement officer from the State Police, a county sheriff's office or a municipal law enforcement agency when the school is in session.

According to Hutchins' press release, this idea would be a "step in the right direction ... in protecting our children and staff in schools."

The visits would be at the convenience of the officers and coordinated by the local county sheriff's department to allow officials to visit the schools in their area. At that time, the officer may make suggestions about school procedures and best practices to promote a safer environment.

The idea of law enforcement officers visiting schools is not new in Waldo County. Chief Deputy Jason Trundy said the Sheriff's Office makes a "strong effort to visit the schools throughout the county on a regular basis. This LD, if passed, would simply bolster our commitment to continue this practice and ensure that it (remains) a regular practice."

Steven Bailey of the Maine School Boards Association/Maine School Superintendents Association said in testimony supporting the bill that the initiative "...is focused on those districts that don't have their own school resource officer. Many of those are in the more rural parts of the state. This would provide what you can think of as a shared SRO in the form of a local officer, sheriff, state policeman or a combination of the above."

Maine Sheriffs Association Executive Director Mary-Anne LaMarre said, "We know that some students may have been exposed to law enforcement under traumatic circumstances. Sheriffs believe that establishing relationships with our schools offers the opportunity for these children to experience law enforcement interactions in a positive and healthy manner."

The bill garnered opponents, as well.

Kate Dufour wrote in her testimony on behalf of the Maine Municipal Association's 70-member legislative policy committee, the bill "... proposes to place a significant unfunded mandate not only on local law enforcement, but more directly on the county sheriffs offices. It is impossible to envision a coordination effort of this magnitude that can be managed and implemented within existing resources.

"Without state funding, the costs associated with the coordination effort will be borne by the state's property taxpayers through increased county tax assessments," she wrote.

Edward Tolan of Maine Chiefs of Police Association (retired) said he did not think it is appropriate for a sheriff's office to play the lead role in "ensuring law enforcement efforts to keep our schools safe, except in those municipalities that rely on the sheriff's office as their primary law enforcement agency."

The Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs met for a work session April 25, but the report has not yet been made available.

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