TRURO — Truro Police Chief Jamie Calise is looking to add a new position to his department to serve as the “resource officer” at the Truro Central School. Calise announced his plan in the January issue of Truro Talks, the monthly newsletter published by the town manager and staff.
The proposal left the public looking for more information about what the officer’s role would be, and School Supt. Stephanie Costigan, who supports Calise’s plan, reported that some staff members at the school had raised questions about the need for police presence.
Truro Central School currently has 99 students in preschool through fifth-grade classrooms and 41 teachers and support staff.
Police reforms signed into state law in December 2020 require that school resource officers undergo special training. They must also maintain certification by the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The responsibilities of these officers are clearly laid out in lengthy agreements between police departments and school districts.
In his statement in Truro Talks, Calise wrote that the primary purpose of a resource officer “is to promote safety and a positive climate for all students, families and staff.” State law prohibits the officer from acting as “a school disciplinarian or enforcer of school regulations,” he said.
The catalyst behind school resource officer programs has been the increasing frequency of violence, Calise said, citing the latest government figures showing that there have been 678 school shootings with casualties at elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. since 2000.
“For the period of 2019-20, nearly one-third of school shootings reported had occurred at the elementary level,” the chief said. “There have been correlations between the presence of resource officers and students and staff experiencing increased feelings of safety.”
Supt. Costigan said this week that she has received a number of questions from her staff about the proposal. Regarding the chief’s comment about the feeling of safety a resource officer would provide, staff members asked how it had been determined that students and staff feel unsafe now, Costigan said.
“The chief’s intention in Truro Talks was to note the benefits of the SRO, not to imply that the students aren’t safe,” said Costigan.
Staff members also asked Costigan what added benefit a resource officer would provide, when 24 staff members will soon be trained in “diversion, de-escalation, and physical management strategies” as part of a school safety program.
In a phone interview this week, Truro School Committee Chair Kolby Blehm said he had reached out to the school community when he first learned about the proposal. “What I found was far from a consensus,” Blehm said.
When Calise presented his idea at a budget task force meeting in December, Blehm suggested that there should be a community forum to get public input on the plan. “I think prior to an officer being present in the school, that’s something that the community and the stakeholders within the school, whether that’s staff or families, need an opportunity to weigh in,” Blehm said at the meeting.
He continues to believe that such a forum should be held, and not just to discuss the police proposal. Another question is whether the school should continue to offer sixth-grade education. This year there are no sixth-graders at Truro Central.
Town Manager Darrin Tangeman told the budget task force that the resource officer position would be funded via an override. The public would have several opportunities to ask questions and give opinions, he said, including at the town meeting and via an override ballot question.
The Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council includes a school resource officers’ network, made up of police and members of the Cape & Islands district attorney’s office. Yarmouth Police Officer Nicholas Pasquarosa, a resource officer at the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District, founded the network in 2008 and serves as its spokesperson. Almost all the departments in Barnstable County have school resource officers on their rosters, he claimed. Brewster and Truro do not, he said, and Wellfleet has a liaison arrangement with the school rather than a resource officer.
“Community outreach is a big part of the mission,” Pasquarosa said in an email. “The police presence also offers opportunities to deter and intervene before formal enforcement action is required.”
Resource officers in the network meet monthly and frequently email each other, offering support, advice, and information, Pasquarosa said.
Some police departments, particularly in smaller towns, have less formal relationships with their schools. “We don’t have an officer assigned there full-time,” said Wellfleet Chief Mike Hurley. “Throughout the year, officers and dispatchers are in the school for lunch, lockdown drills, and school-sponsored events.”
Provincetown Chief James Golden said his department “does not employ a designated school resource officer,” but Pasquarosa said Officer Jason Sullivan has historically acted as a liaison with the Provincetown Schools and has attended network training sessions.
The Eastham Police Dept. has a memorandum of understanding with the Nauset Regional School District for officers at the high school and elementary school. “We have a full-time officer assigned to Nauset Regional High School every day,” said Chief Adam Bohannon. The department also has an officer assigned to Eastham Elementary School. “The difference is that this officer is not present at the school every day but makes frequent visits to the school and is available to the school for any issues that arise,” said Bohannon.
Costigan said the plan in Truro isn’t to have the resource officer always at the school. “We don’t need an officer in the building all day,” she said. She envisions the officer being there to help with traffic at the start and end of each school day. The officers do that now unless they are out on a call. “This would guarantee they would be there every school day,” the superintendent said. “Another benefit is building a positive climate. They could drop in once a week for lunch with the students.”
Calise told the budget task force that the new position would also provide an additional officer to help out with department duties when school is out for the summer.
Truro’s police dept. currently has 10 officers, with two additional recruits currently in the police academy, according to Calise. There are also two positions vacant due to a retirement and a transfer in late fall.
Finding officers to fill the vacancies is a challenge that police departments nationwide are experiencing, Calise said. On the Outer Cape, the lack of housing has been an additional challenge. There is also salary competition from neighboring departments, he said. Provincetown pays its officers more, with the top step on the pay scale at $85,000. Truro’s top step is $70,000, which is 4.5 percent lower than the state average.
The police union is currently negotiating with the town, Calise told the budget task force in December. “There is a compensation analysis to make the wages more competitive,” he said. The department also plans to “aggressively advertise” its vacancies to attract more candidates, according to the chief. “And the town is working very hard to try to increase the housing stock so that we would have people who could afford to live locally.”