Chief LaCross has long been a supporter of school resource officers, and in prior years applied to the federal government for funding for the position. The district has never had a resource officer in any of the schools, but could be pressed to make a decision for the upcoming year.
The police chief’s budget will next travel to the town manager, who will decide whether or not to keep the provision. The budget will then be included in the town’s overall budget, which will go before the committee on appropriations. That board could recommend changes to the budget, although the final decision will rest in the hands of the voters. In years past, the public has voted to preserve funding for certain programs or positions that would have otherwise been cut from the budget by local officials.
“I’m hoping it is approved,” said Chief LaCross. “I’m hoping consideration is given to it … at least one position.”
Chief LaCross believes the town would be wise to hire one or two resource officers for the schools; each position could cost about $80,000 in salary and benefits. He said the positions are valuable in a number of areas. He said the resource officers bridge a gap that often widens between students and the police. They can also assist students and administrators on a daily basis and provide key information in stemming underage drinking and other illegal activities.
In addition, resource officers would establish an increased level of safety for local students.
Following the elementary school shooting in Connecticut, officials around the country began to examine the safety and security protocols for public schools. In Barrington, Chief LaCross met with Schools Superintendent Michael Messore to discuss areas for potential improvement.
“I hope nothing ever happens in Barrington, but you never know,” the chief said.
Shortly following the school shooting in Connecticut, Barrington High School had a scare of its own. A former student reportedly posted a threatening message to his Facebook account, stating that a certain day was going to be “a bad day” for Barrington High School. The message concerned students and faculty at the school, as rumors whipped through the halls. Eventually, local police tracked down the individual who posted the comment and spoke to him and his parents.
Chief LaCross said his department did not find the threat to warrant an arrest, and added that police involvement in that situation would likely have started sooner had a resource officers been posted at the school.
“It’s about a lot more than just an officer being there with a gun,” he said. “There are a lot of positives that come with that position.”
Chief LaCross said that a resource officer — should it make the budget cut — would fall under his authority, although details of the position would be left to school officials. For example, district officials may prefer using the officer at all the schools rather than just posting him or her at the high school. The officer would work for the school department from the duration of the school year and then work a regular police shift during summer months.
“The officer will work at the discretion of the administration,” he said. “He would be under the chief’s authority, but if he was at the high school he would report to (Barrington High School Principal) Joe Hurley.”
Chief LaCross said he hopes officials and residents will give the resource officer concept a chance to work.
“Try it and give it three years and see how it works,” he said. “You might really like it. You might want one at the high school and one floating between the other schools. … or maybe it won’t work. Just give it a chance.”
The chief said he believes federal funding will be made available — it had been reduced in prior years — for resource officers and thinks Barrington would have a good chance at receiving that funding.
“I’ve been a strong advocate of resource officers from day one,” Chief LaCross said.
Barrington school officials investigated hiring a resource officer years ago, but decided against the measure.