Chief Coyle recommends presence at other schools
EAST GREENWICH — Both the East Greenwich Town Council and the East Greenwich School Committee have commended the work of Student Resource Officer Steven Branch while stationed at East Greenwich High School on a regular basis.
So could the idea of a second student resource officer come to fruition within the coming year?
The two sides talked about that possibility during Monday’s fiscal budget session at Swift Community Center on the premise on both increasing the safety within all six schools in East Greenwich, as well as improving the social climate in the hallways.
Police Chief Thomas Coyle, a 25-year veteran on the force, told both the Council and School Committee that there have been a number of calls the East Greenwich Police Department has received over the last couple of years have been more profound and disturbing from East Greenwich High School. Two incidents Coyle referenced to was a student writing an essay for an assignment that depicted a school shooting and, most recently, a student planting a BB gun in one of the restrooms.
“It’s the types of calls like that that bring to mind what has been happening across the United States,” Coyle said. “Plus, you can’t forget what happened in Newtown, Conn. [with the school shooting]. The SRO isn’t the cure-all. But it is a serious deterrent to implement within the school system.”
Coyle said his plan would be to integrate the second officer into Cole Middle School and through the elementary schools. But, considering the amount of special needs students at the elementary level, Coyle was going to approach it with a “soft touch” by having the officer dressed in casual clothes as opposed to being in full uniform so the kids can see the individual as a presence at the school and then transition into being a uniformed officer.
Councilman Brad Bishop said that the approximately $80,000 Coyle has budgeted for a new resource officer for this year would provide that safety and that “it’s the right thing to do.”
“I think either the Town or the Schools need to do this,” he said, “this year. And I think it’s up to us as leaders to figure out a way to pay for it.”
School Committee Chairperson David Green said he was in support of the idea, as was other Committee members such as Jack Sommer, Carolyn Mark and Mary Ellen Winters, to have an officer oversee Cole Middle School and the four elementary schools within the town. However, Green added that the Committee didn’t have formal discussions about whether or not to bring in an additional officer into the schools, let alone include it in this year’s budget.
Green even suggested that there have been some slight deliberations on the School Committee’s part to spend some money on additional personnel hired to focus on student mental health issues or problems – both detection and prevention – in the form of a social worker or psychologist.
But Council members, Coyle and other officials Monday strongly recommended the idea of speaking with Bob Houghtaling, the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program and is in contact with students tackling social issues on a daily basis, and ask for his opinion on what would be the best course of action to take.
“Is this something that he feels (strongly about) based on his exposure to the kids and what is happening at Cole,” Councilman Mark Gee said. “Is there a need for a resource officer at Cole? And then it boils down to how we allocate those resources. If Bob Houghtaling has something to say, it would be helpful to all of us.”
Gee also stated he was concerned about the cost of adding a new resource officer and asked if there were other methods, such as counselors or therapists, to provide similar services as a resource officer would at Cole and the other schools.
Coyle responded with the notion that the new resource officer would implement new programs along with Officer Branch at the schools, as well as help oversee the two biggest campuses in town – Cole and EGHS. But the biggest reason for a new resource officer, Coyle said, is the ‘what if’ factor of something catastrophic happening and having a member of the force on site to help minimize any threat that may occur.
“I think it would be extremely instrumental,” Coyle said. “God forbid something happens based on the different types of calls in the schools and other types of problems. It’s my job to inform the Council of those probabilities. So those probabilities are increasing every year.”