School resource officer debate sparks argument in Hampden

Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 8:24 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 11, 2013, at 2:18 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Town officials have until the end of the month to decide if they will accept a grant that would be used to cover part of the cost of hiring a second school resource officer.

The grant — provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program — would 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.

A cost projection for the position provided by Public Safety Director Joe Rogers 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.

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, would be assigned to Reeds Brook Middle School and also be available to other schools.

But that’s only if the town accepts the funding. Town Manager Susan Lessard said that the deadline for withdrawing gracefully is the end of this year.

Town councilors had voted 4-2 in favor of accepting a $125,000 federal grant during a meeting on Oct. 7. After the decision was questioned by a group of taxpayers, councilors took another vote during their Oct. 21 meeting, at which time the previous decision was affirmed.

Since then, however, the town has held local elections that changed the composition of the council, which has two new members. In addition, the vote to accept the grant was a close one. Those are the reasons Lessard brought the issue back before the council last week, she said during the meeting.

Though town councilors took no action on the matter at that time, the grant debate at one point led to an argument between Mayor Thomas Brann and former Councilor Kristen Hornbrook. Hornbrook is among the residents who do not want the town to accept the grant because of the local funding that would be required.

Hornbrook took offense when Brann told her that it was not yet time for public comment and accused him of attempting to violate her right to free speech.

After Hornbrook refused to return to her seat in the audience, Brann demanded that she be removed by a police officer and that the sound system be turned off.

Neither of those things, however, happened.

Town councilors will take the matter up again during their last meeting of the year, set for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16. In the meantime, Councilor Sirois is working with Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest to put together a cost-benefit analysis.

Clarification: The story and headline were updated to reflect that there was no shouting match because Kristen Hornbrook did not shout at Thomas Brann.

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