HINSDALE, N.H. -- The financing and responsibilities of a school resource officer were the main concern of the members of the budget committee who met with the town's Board of Selectmen Monday.
Though a final proposed budget is not due until February, budget committee member John Hartnett had a few questions about the school resource officer that the selectmen and the Hinsdale School Board previously voted to accept grant money to hire. Hartnett wanted to know if the SRO, once hired, could multitask throughout the town as a cost-saving measure.
The selectmen and school board voted in October to accept a $125,000 grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services Office to hire an SRO. The grant, approved by the federal government, will last for three years and comes with a 12-month obligation attached. The SRO position would be funded by the grant for three years, after which its cost would be split evenly between School Administrative Unit 92 and the Hinsdale Police Department.
Selectman Wayne Gallagher, who served as the Hinsdale police chief for 10 years, explained to Hartnett exactly what an SRO would do. He said the officer would take over for him and operate the Drug Abuse Resistance Education at Hinsdale Elementary School, serve as a guest speaker in certain classes at that school as well as at the middle/high school and protect students from violence. Police Chief Todd Faulkner has previously said an SRO can act as a friendly ear for students' problems.
Gallagher added that unexcused absences among students would also drop dramatically because an SRO can go to a student's house and tell the student's parents they will be brought to court if they don't ensure their child makes it to school if he or she is able to. He said he saw a huge improvement after he started going to the houses of absent students. Keene and Winchester also have SRO programs.
Hartnett asked if the SRO could serve as a crossing guard at the town's schools and Gallagher told him that would take the officer away from his regular responsibilities at the times of student arrival and departure, which he said are the most vital for an SRO. Hartnett, who once served as the principal of the town's high school, told the Reformer there are paid crossing guards at the schools and at Hinsdale Town Hall and he thought it would save money to have an SRO perform the duties at the schools and train someone, perhaps the custodian, to do the same on Main Street. He said he doesn't have a problem with hiring an SRO, but was just looking for ways to save taxpayer money.
"We're all in the same boat here. We think, ‘What can we do to help ourselves?' and 'What can we do to keep taxes low and get our houses filled?'" he said.
Hartnett also questioned Gallagher on the low retention rates of Hinsdale police officers. He said officers typically leave the department after three or four years, creating a detriment to the safety of the citizens and exhausting law enforcement supervisors. He also said consistently having to train new officers is costly.
Hartnett suggested the possibility of requiring newly trained police officers to sign a legally binding contract promising to reimburse the town any funds if they choose to leave the department before a certain timeframe. Gallagher said that cannot be done in New Hampshire and Town Administrator Jill Collins said the town has already lost one such legal case.
Budget Committee Chairman Peter Zavorotny also inquired about a crack that must be fixed at the Hinsdale Police Department and Collins said the chimney must be repaired.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.