This week, Sergeant Michael Marchand traded his desk at the Oak Bluffs Police Department (OBPD) for one at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). On Tuesday, Sergeant Marchand will assume full-time duties as the School Resource Officer (SRO).
Superintendent of Schools James Weiss and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake announced his appointment in a press release last week. Mr. Weiss and Chief Blake waited to formally appoint an SRO until the high school’s new principal, Gil Traverso, started work full-time on August 11.
Sgt. Marchand told The Times in a phone conversation Monday that he had a 90-minute meeting last week with Mr. Traverso, who has experience working with an SRO in his former job as principal of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield.
“He seems to have the same understanding of what the basics are, and we seem to be on the same page,” Sgt. Marchand said.
Plans for creating the SRO position have been in the works for several years, but funding was delayed by budget constraints. The MVRHS school committee approved $100,000 for salary and benefits for an SRO in the high school’s Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, approved by town meeting voters Island-wide last spring.
Asked if he sought the SRO appointment, Sgt. Marchand said he had expressed an interest during the planning process to create the position. “I wanted to see a program get started, and I wanted to see it started in the right way,” he said.
Sgt. Marchand has both a professional and personal interest in making the SRO program successful. One of his four children is a student at the high school, and two other children will attend in the next few years. A fourth child is a graduate.
While working the day shift, Sgt. Marchand said he has spent a lot of time at the high school and had a lot of interaction with the assistant principals there.
“When they heard I was interested in the position, they thought it was a good fit,” he said. “I’ve been around the high school quite a bit, in over 20 years of policing. I know a lot of the kids and a lot of the teachers already.”
What does an SRO do?
His duties and responsibilities are outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the high school and OBPD, signed by Mr. Weiss, Chief Blake, and Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour.
The SRO’s primary responsibility is to provide police services in the school environment and cooperate with school officials in developing education programs, emergency plans, law enforcement activities, and specialized counseling to faculty, staff, students, and parents, according to a copy of the MOU that Mr. Weiss provided in response to a request from The Times.
Sgt. Marchand will work an eight-hour shift Monday through Friday at the high school and will not be pulled to cover patrol shifts or court appearances for the OBPD, according to the MOU. He also is expected to attend or participate in extracurricular activities and after-school parent and community functions when possible. Depending on the activity he is involved in, he will wear a uniform or a modified version that identifies him as a police officer, and display his badge.
“The biggest priority of any SRO, myself included, is to make sure the students and faculty are safe,” Sgt. Marchand said, “and that they feel safe at school and they feel safe at work. And that lends itself, in turn, to an environment that is conducive to learning.”
His duties and responsibilities are categorized in the MOU under the headings of education, specialized counseling, law enforcement, and general. Duties under education include conducting programs and training for school personnel, participating in classroom presentations, and providing information about criminal or juvenile law to students.
Counseling duties include providing career counseling to students interested in law enforcement, discussing alcohol and other drug prevention, and meeting privately with students to discuss a wide variety of issues.
Law enforcement duties include investigating criminal activity committed in the school or on school property, and enforcing the law. The MOU stipulates that school officials, not the SRO, remain responsible for imposing discipline for infraction of school rules and policies that do not amount to criminal or delinquent conduct. Sgt. Marchand also will coordinate and be responsible for law enforcement and security at extracurricular events, as determined by the principal.
Sergeant Marchand said he has not set specific goals yet, because he is building the SRO program from the ground up.
“We know what type of program we want to model ours after, but we don’t know yet exactly what it will look like at the high school,” he said. “It will take a little while to figure that out. We’re excited about it.”
Sgt. Marchand’s office is located next to the two assistant principals’ offices, near the high school’s main entrance. It will be equipped with a police department phone line and a computer to allow him to connect with both the school’s and police department’s record systems.
Chain of command
Although Sgt. Marchand will be considered an MVRHS staff member, Chief Blake remains his boss.
In a phone conversation with The Times on Monday, Chief Blake said he weighed his decision to appoint one of his more experienced officers with supervisory responsibilities very carefully. “When Sergeant Marchand said he was interested in this job, what made me consider him were his skills as an administrator, the way he handles people, his experience and knowledge, and very importantly, his willingness to take on this assignment,” he said. “I picked the person I felt would best get the program going properly, and make sure it is stable for years to come.”
“With the commitment by the school monetarily and the commitment from the school administration and myself to get a program that would be beneficial and good, I felt I would make the sacrifice in the human capital in my department to get it done correctly,” he said, adding that he felt the SRO program was worth it.
“We’re going to lose a sergeant, but we have two others in which I have extreme confidence that they’ll be able to pick up whatever Sergeant Marchand does for me,” the chief noted. “The beauty is, I get him back in the summer, when I really need him.”
Chief Blake said the $100,000 budgeted for the new full-time, school-based SRO’s salary, benefits, and operating costs is based on the estimated cost to hire a first-year police officer. The annual base pay for an OBPD sergeant is $120,000, excluding overtime, stipends, and benefits, according to the Oak Bluffs personnel department.
Mr. Marchand will continue to receive his sergeant’s salary through the police budget and the $100,000 budgeted by the high school for the SRO will be used to pay the costs associated with a newly hired patrolman.
SRO programs Island-wide
The idea of having a full-time SRO at the high school has been under consideration since 2012, when the school committee voted unanimously to explore creating the position. The establishment of the SRO position this year appears to be well-timed.
On August 13, Governor Patrick Deval signed, “An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.” In addition to strengthening gun laws, the legislation also requires the assignment of a school resource officer to each school district.
Law enforcement presence varies from school to school on the Island. In a previous interview on the subject, Mr. Weiss said each school and police department has tried to develop the best possible solution for their situation.
Edgartown police officers David Rossi and Stephanie Immelt share part-time SRO duties at Edgartown School. Tisbury police officer Scott Ogden serves as an SRO for four hours a day, three days a week, at Tisbury School.
Last year, Oak Bluffs police officers began a simple, cost-effective plan to increase their presence at Oak Bluffs School by assigning a day shift officer to complete arrest reports or other clerical work in a small office near the gym and cafeteria.
After much discussion last fall, the Up-Island Regional School District school committee decided not to add an SRO to this year’s budget, but they said they would continue to consider the idea in the future. Currently, officers from the district’s member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury make random visits to the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools and attend field trips, according to school officials.