EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 12, 2013

Chief aims to restore school liaison officer

Proposal comes in wake of Newtown, other tragedies

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — GEORGETOWN — Police Chief Jim Mulligan is seeking to renew police presence in the town’s schools in the wake of recent violence from Connecticut to California.

Mulligan will go before selectmen Monday night seeking support to restore funding for the Police Department’s school liaison officer position on a part-time basis in hopes of minimizing the potential for deadly violence to occur locally.

Officials everywhere are grappling with how to keep children safe following the December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman blasted his way into the school, killing 20 first-graders and six staff members.

Mulligan said what law enforcement professionals have learned from that tragedy as well as Thursday’s shooting at Taft Union High School in California, this summer’s theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and other tragedies is that when it comes to school and mass shootings, no community is immune.

“Newtown is every town,” Mulligan said. “What happened there, can happen anywhere.”

Following the horror of Newtown, Mulligan took part in a community forum to discuss the issue with educators, parents and residents. He listened, then told the group what police professionals have found themselves having to explain recently.

“I told them I can’t stop this kind of thing,” Mulligan said. “What we can do is try to minimize it.”

Georgetown once had a full-time school resource officer, a trained professional who worked in the schools every day. For three years, the position was partially underwritten by a federal grant. The fourth year, the job was funded by the town, as the grant required. But after that, the funds to maintain a full-time police presence in the schools were cut, Mulligan said.

The position was reduced to a police liaison officer three days a week, the chief said. But even that fell victim to budget cuts when finances got dicey a few years ago, he said.

Mulligan said he feels strongly that renewing the position will give parents, students and educators an additional measure of safety.

Georgetown schools are physically secure, with locked entrances and cameras on every door, Mulligan said. Admittance to schools only comes after buzzers at the doors are pushed and staff can check out the person seeking entry, he said.

Should police be called to the schools in an emergency, Mulligan said every officer on duty would respond, with an expected arrival time from the station of 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. But, he added, given that duty officers could be engaged in other emergency calls, having a school liaison officer dedicated to handling the schools exclusively would provide better coverage.

Not having one leaves a gap, he said.

“I feel that this is a hole that should be plugged,” Mulligan said.

Officers trained to work in schools with children fill another important role, Mulligan said. They can be helpful in detecting problems before they happen, which he said has occurred many times throughout the nation. Students hearing of someone planning a violent act have been known to reach out to school officers they have come to trust, he said, in some cases saving lives as a result.

Mulligan said if selectmen back his proposal, he will then ask the Finance Advisory Committee for a transfer from the town’s free cash account into the Police Department budget to pay for the liaison officer position from February to the end of school in June.

“If I have the selectmen’s support on this, I’ll calculate the cost and go forward with the Finance Committee,” Mulligan said. “If not, I’ll drop it.”