HAMPDEN, Maine — Despite a backlash from a group of taxpayers, town councilors Monday night stuck by their 4-2 decision earlier this month to accept a $125,000 federal grant that will be used to hire a second school resource officer.
The issue, which drew about 30 residents to the council chambers, dominated the more than two-hour meeting, which took place on the same day that a Nevada student armed with a semi-automatic handgun killed a math teacher and critically injured two classmates before killing himself.
The grant — provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program — will be used to cover part of the cost for hiring the officer for three years. In accepting it, the town agrees to fund the position entirely on its own for the fourth year.
Sgt. Dan Stewart, the current school resource officer, is based at Hampden Academy but also visits other RSU 22 schools as needed. The new school resource officer, who likely will be hired early next year, will be assigned to Reeds Brook Middle School and also be available to other schools.
Councilor William Shakespeare asked that the grant be revisited after reading a comment by resident Terry McAvoy that appeared appeared in a Bangor Daily News story. McAvoy said that he thought the council’s Oct. 7 decision to accept the grant was “grossly irresponsible” because a cost projection for the position shows that despite the $125,000 in federal funds, the cost to Hampden taxpayers will amount to $198,192 based on the four-year total cost.
Shakespeare said the comment “sort of lit a spark under me.” To that end, he asked that a presentation about the grant be added to Monday’s meeting agenda so that residents could hear what Public Safety Director Joe Rogers and Stewart had to say about the matter.
Rogers and Stewart made a similar presentation during a council committee meeting that was not televised on the local cable television channel as are regular council meetings.
All but one of the people who addressed the council — Hampden Academy Principal Ruey Yehle — opposed the second school resource officer because of the cost.
“My biggest concern when I first heard about this is what’s going on at Reeds Brook where they need a full-time school resource officer in the building,” said Lisa Kelley, who has school-aged children. “What’s going on? Because if something’s going on, there’s a failure of communication.” Kelley said she recently spoke to a longtime middle school teacher who told her “how blessed we are with the group of kids who are going through.”
“We don’t live right now in a time of luxury,” she said. “We seem to be living in a time when it’s very easy to spend other peoples’ hard-earned money … I think it’s time that we just step back and look down the road because I don’t see the need for it.”
Councilors who support the position, including Thomas Brann, said the position is needed.
“It is the responsibility of the town of Hampden to provide for the safety, health and well-being of each and every one of our students,” Brann said. “It’s our responsibility to provide officers to make sure that that happens. If one were to get in an airplane or get in a car and ask any parent that has lost children to the recent [school] violence that has taken place across the country and ask them which one would rather not spend a million dollars to protect that child?”
Added Shakespeare: “Is it necessary? I believe so. … At what price? One kid? Two kids worth the price? This is no Sandy Hook, I’m told. Well, it isn’t. It’s Hampden, Maine. We don’t want it to be Sandy Hook. That’s the purpose of this. My God, can you imagine Hampden, Maine, 20 kids shot? No. God help us.”
A motion to fund the town’s $32,521 share of the first year of the program passed 4-2, with Mayor Hughes and councilors Jean Lawlis, Shakespeare and Brann in favor and councilors Carol Duprey and David Ryder opposed.