Oak Bluffs police find an efficient way to assist school

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake was inspired by Martin Luther King while he was in grade school. — File photo by Christy Aumer

The Oak Bluffs Police Department and town school officials have begun a simple, cost-effective plan to increase police presence at the school.

A day shift officer assigned to complete arrest reports or other clerical work now has a suitable workspace inside the school. An officer began work last month in the small room near the gymnasium and cafeteria.

“We can go into that office, and it’s like the office downtown,” Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake told The Times, as he worked in the Oak Bluffs School Monday. Chief Blake takes turns with several officers who regularly work from the school office.

He said telephone calls to the police station downtown can be transferred to the phone system in the school, and officers still have the same access to police reports and other files from a school-supplied laptop.

The officer who visits the school changes daily. He or she may arrive in a marked, or unmarked, vehicle.

“We want it to be random,” Oak Bluffs principal Richard Smith said of the schedule. “We don’t want to create a pattern.”

Mr. Smith began collaborating with the Oak Bluffs department on this specific project in January, after interest in school security increased around the time of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings. He said school officials and school committee members wanted to address public safety in the school without busting the budget.

Mr. Smith said the school didn’t necessarily need a full-time school resource officer, someone who is similar to a faculty member and may teach a health or driver’s education class. His goal, he said, was purely a “police presence in the school.”

After several weeks, the response to the “test run” has been positive, Mr. Smith says. But, he anticipates adjusting the arrangement if any unforeseen problems arise before the next school year.

He added that whoever is working from the Oak Bluffs police is always approachable. The officer often walks up and down the halls, eats lunch with his son or daughter and is visible and interacting with people in the school.

“Having them here makes so many more people comfortable, including me,” Mr. Smith said.

Ten-year-old Oak Bluffs student Evanna Thorton-Quinn recently transferred from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School last winter. She agreed with Mr. Smith. Students “feel more protection,” she said.

“I’m appreciative of their time, and in the end their responsibility is the security of the kids and the town, and people,” Mr. Smith said. “And this just fits perfectly for both of our needs.”

Continuing effort

Law enforcement presence varies from school to school on the Island. Martha’s Vineyard school superintendent James Weiss said each school and police department has tried to develop the best possible solution for their situation.

Next to contemplate such an arrangement is the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, the superintendent said. The high school does not now have any public safety presence.

Mr. Weiss said he hopes to have law enforcement presence at the high school as soon as the 2014-2015 school year. Cost has been an issue.

He said Chief Blake recently applied for a U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS grant to fund a school resource officer at the high school. The COPS office will announce awards on September 30, according to the program’s web site.

“I would say over the last four to five years, there has been an attempt to get somebody at the high school,” Mr. Weiss said. “About a year ago, the high school thought about putting money in the budget for an officer, but because of cost shifts, they weren’t able to.”

“Overall,” Mr. Weiss said of the public safety presence in the Island schools, “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”