SWANZEY CENTER — The Monadnock Regional School Board is considering adding an armed school resource officer to the district’s payroll, reviving a discussion that fizzled a few years ago after a measure to add such a position was voted down by district residents.
The district has employed a school security officer, who cannot carry a gun on duty or make arrests, since 2013, according to a previous report in The Sentinel. It previously had a school resource officer until voters rejected a warrant article to fund the position for the 2013-14 school year. That officer was stationed at the middle/high school for 11 years.
In May, the school board directed administration to explore options for law enforcement services through the Swanzey Police Department, the Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office and N.H. State Police. But according to Superintendent Lisa A. Witte, the sheriff’s office declined because Swanzey police have expressed interest in providing an officer.
“The Swanzey Police Department is capable of handling the needs of the [Monadnock Regional High School], as they have done before, and I would support using them again,” Sheriff Eliezer “Eli” Rivera wrote in a June email to Witte. “I’ve spoken to [Swanzey] Chief [Thomas] DeAngelis about my position and I will support and partner with him as needed to meet the needs of your school.”
Swanzey police Lt. Joseph DiRusso, who was formerly a troop commander for N.H. State Police, gave the board an overview Tuesday night of State Police’s agreement with Fall Mountain Regional High School to provide law enforcement services, which was established during his tenure in the department.
DiRusso said that under the agreement, different troopers were assigned to the school in Langdon each day, and the district reimbursed the state for the associated overtime costs. To his knowledge, the district still uses this system today, he said.
But much like the sheriff’s department, DiRusso said it’s unlikely State Police would pursue providing officers if Swanzey has shown interest.
“I can’t speak for Col. [Christopher] Wagner, but from my experiences with State Police, [they] wouldn’t just come into a town unless [they] were invited,” DiRusso said, “and in a case like this, if the chief of Swanzey wanted that school resource officer, I can’t see the State Police wanting to come in and do that without getting a request.”
Witte told the board she will continue working with the Swanzey Police Department to hash out the particulars of a part-time or full-time position. The proposal would then need to go back before the board for a vote, and, if approved, funding for the new position would likely be built into the 2020-21 school budget.
The board would not have to request the funding through a separate warrant article to include it in the budget, she said.
A few board members questioned whether a position could be added this year, but Witte said it’s not yet clear if there is money available in this year’s budget.
School resource officers must also go through 40 hours of specialized training before they can begin work, DiRusso said, and finding an officer who already has that training is rare.
It may be possible if the board opts to go with a part-time officer, Witte said, but the district would still need to be sure there are sufficient funds before moving forward. Based on board discussions, the idea would be to keep the current school security officer on staff as well, she said.
Nicholas Mosher, the board’s representative from Roxbury, advocated for retaining the current officer, Frank J. DeTurris of Swanzey, who was hired in 2015. DeTurris is a retired New York City Police Department detective.
“As long as we also incorporate Frank into our plans, I’m definitely in favor of a part-time SRO. I think it would be a great addition to the district, but I’d also like to make sure that we’re not compromising other areas of education,” Mosher said. “I want to make sure that it’s built into the budget properly and that we have the funds to do it.”
Board member Elizabeth G. “Betty” Tatro of Swanzey cautioned against basing the decision on current staffing.
“I absolutely endorse Frank. But we shouldn’t be building something around a person,” Tatro said. “We should be building that around a position.”
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17 at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School.