Haines’ new police chief, Heath Scott, wants to expand the four-officer department. Initially, Scott thought potential expansion could include a school resource officer for the Haines School District. But after more consideration, he’s stepped back from that idea.
Scott says placing a school resource officer at Haines School was a priority for him, at first.
“Fundamentally that comes out of me being a parent, a taxpayer,” Scott said. “I see the benefit of school resources officers in communities I’ve worked in in the past.”
But there are a couple things that made him re-think that approach. One was hesitation from community members, including new school superintendent Tony Habra. In an interview a few weeks ago, Habra said from what he heard from the administration and school board, a resource officer is not needed in the school.
“There was some movement on [the school resource officer idea] prior to having that discussion with the administration here, with the board here,” Habra said. “So that’s a premature decision.”
“I think the new school administrator, having a new borough manager and having me coming in, the general consensus among us is that we need to take some time so that we understand our roles, understand what the community needs,” said Scott.
He says he came into the Haines job with a ‘preconceived notion’ of a police department that has a good relationship with the community. But now he’s realized that it’ll take time to build trust.
Scott says even if he did want to put an officer in the school right now, it would be irresponsible given the department’s limited manpower.
“Here’s the major concern. There’s 24 hours in a day, and you have four officers.”
Scott says that level of staffing isn’t acceptable to him. That’s why he encouraged former acting chief Josh Dryden to apply for a Community-Oriented Policing Services, or COPS grant through the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s a three-year grant that funds 75 percent of a new officer’s salary, up to $125,000.
“Prior to me coming, you’ve had a department of at times two [officers], at times three, and those guys are tired. They have to go on leave, they have to go to training. And I have to be cognizant of this stuff.”
Scott expects to hear back about the grant this fall.
Because the Haines force is small and stretched, Scott says directing limited manpower to the school probably wouldn’t be in the community’s best interest. But he still thinks it might be a good idea in the future.
“If the community wants it, and the school system wants it, the police chief wants it, the mayor, and borough and assembly wants it, it’s a good idea. And I just don’t know if all of that’s there. It may be too early to say that. Now, it would irresponsible to say we’re not doing it. Because we don’t know what may come in two years, and it may be the right time then.”
For now, Scott says he’s resolved to pay attention to what the community wants and take changes – like putting an officer in the school – slowly. But he does plan to apply for grants and talk to the borough about how to expand the department.