Easthampton to consider eliminating school resource officers

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2020 6:46:41 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A proposal to do away with the city’s school resource officers will be brought before the School Committee Tuesday by the mayor.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle is asking that Superintendent Allison LeClair request an exemption to the state requirement that the district have an SRO, although the ultimate decision will be the superintendent’s

“This isn’t about the SROs doing a bad job,” said LaChapelle.

Rather, LaChapelle said, the schools aren’t seeing the criminality needed to justify the presence of SROs, and she favors putting the officers into community policing that would work with juveniles instead.

LaChapelle also said that doing away with SROs is a response to the national pandemics of racism and COVID-19, and reallocating resources in the face of them.

This year, the Police Department was awarded a federal grant that allowed it to hire a second school resource officer this summer. The mayor said, however, that eliminating SROs wouldn’t eliminate the new hire’s job, because the grant was for a community policing position that would have contact with children.

“The grant-funded position will transfer to community policing,” LaChapelle said.

As for the issue of school shootings, LaChapelle said that, based on her research, “one person with a weapon doesn’t guarantee a stopping or prevention of a school shooting.”

LeClair said she hasn’t decided whether or not to apply for the waiver. And she said she’s interested in hearing the thoughts of the School Committee, and in speaking with the mayor and police chief on the matter.

“I want to consider all aspects of it,” LeClair said.

She also said she’s not in a hurry to make a decision on the waiver, as the schools will be starting remotely in Easthampton this year.

“This is a decision that can wait for a while,” she said.

Should LeClair apply for the waiver, it would need to be granted by the state’s commissioner of education for it to take effect.

Police Chief Robert Alberti said that while he believes in the SRO program, he is “going to defer to the school and the community.”

Alberti did note, however, that there are a number of people in the community who are supportive of the SRO program, and that the program is not a new one.

“We’ve had an SRO my whole career,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com

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