Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 05-09-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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2 WOONSOCKET / BLACKSTONE MAY 9-15, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET WOONSOCKET – The number of full-time school resource officers in city schools has quadrupled since last year, and police are anticipating the change will bring about a safer envi- ronment for students and teachers. In a change approved by the School Committee last year and funded in part by a grant from the Office of Justice Programs, the Woonsocket Police Department recently appointed two full-time SROs to positions at the city's middle and elementary schools, with a third due to start at Villanova Middle School next week. The new positions are in addition to a full-time resource officer already stationed at Woonsocket High School, bringing the total number of SROs in Woonsocket schools to four. According to Chief Thomas Oates, the change will enhance safety and improve communication between students and law enforcement at city schools. The new positions will also help the department create a positive impression of police among the city's youth starting at a young age, with one officer visiting elementary schools and filling in at the other schools as needed as a dedicated "roamer." "It's community policing on its most basic level. You're not going to get any closer to the community than that," said Oates. Not everyone agreed the new posi- tions were worth the cost when the proposal came before the School Committee last year. In addition to matching the $500,000 grant toward the first three years of the SROs' salaries, the Woonsocket Education Department is paying the full cost to retain the SROs for a fourth year. Oates and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt testified and wrote letters in support of the proposal, but Oates said he believes the real change in percep- tion came about after the February 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and returned the topic of school shootings to the national spotlight. "That shooting kind of changed the minds of a lot of people locally, I think," he said. While preparing for a large incident such as a mass shooting is part of the job description, most of the work revolves around defusing smaller inci- dents on a day-to-day basis, accord- ing to Patrolman Tim Hammond. Hammond took over as SRO at Woonsocket High School in August of last year, a position previously held by Officer Joseph Zinni. Hammond said much of his focus is around develop- ing positive relationships with students who could tip him off to any underly- ing issues among their classmates. "A lot of it is gaining relationships," he said. "Most of it is building rela- tionships with the kids because they don't trust you." Today, fights between students often gain traction on social media long before staff members are aware of the issue. By developing a rapport with students, officers sometimes gain access to information they otherwise wouldn't see. Detective Sgt. Phil Kamer, who oversees the depart- ment's juvenile division, brought up the example of a recent tip about a potential threat at a Boys & Girls Club event that hadn't yet occurred. "Through social media, that infor- mation travels very quickly and the closer you are to that, the more lead time you have on that," explained Oates. The close access to the schools also allows officers to be on hand when emergencies unfold. Last October, Hammond responded after a student alerted staff that another student was carrying a handgun on school prop- erty. While police do not believe the teenager intended to use the weapon, the incident demonstrated the impor- tance of remaining prepared and keeping an open line of communica- tion with the student body. It's a particular kind of job, one that represents a big shift for officers com- ing from patrol. Patrolman Daniel Wild, who starts at Villanova Middle School next week, said he'll have to adopt a different demeanor than the one he currently uses on first shift. In working with preteens, he'll likely draw on his experience as a former rock climbing instructor to develop a mentoring relationship with the stu- dents. "The SRO program gives us a chance to smile at the kids and show them that we're human too," he said. The job also presents unique chal- lenges, including the need to follow up with students daily and continue developing relationships even after a student gets into trouble. Patrolman Mike Velino, who started at Hamlet Middle School in March, said it's tough for SROs to see a student they know fall off track. It's a different environment than out on the streets, where an officer might arrest an indi- vidual and never come in contact with them again. "It becomes more personal," he said. In addition to three full-time SROs at Woonsocket High School and both middle school buildings, Patrolman Scott Breguet will serve as a "roam- ing" SRO, a job that will likely take him into the elementary schools. Prior to this year, the department some- times had a second officer stationed at the two middle schools, but occasion- ally had to pull that officer to fill in with other needs. The new schedule, said officers, will offer consistency for students and administrators, with the same SROs reporting every day. New school resource officers report for duty in city schools By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer auren@valleybreeze.com New resource officers in Woonsocket schools are, from left, Patrolman DANIEL WILD, Patrolman TIM HAMMOND, Patrolman MIKE VELINO and Patrolman SCOTT BREGUET. BREEZE PHOTO BY LAUREN CLEM To our readers: On Tuesday, a computer data- base malfunction for The Valley Breeze newspapers set us back. We have all had to work espe- cially hard to get this edition to you, and it is not up to our nor- mal standards. That said, it was important to get our local towns' most important news to you this week, as well as the many Mother's Day advertisements. To make room for more local news, there is no Opinion Page in this edition, though it can be found online in the E-Editions of our other newspapers. Visit valleybreeze.com and click "E-Editions" at the top. We expect to have things back to normal next week. Thank you for your understanding. - Tom Ward, publisher Adult program offered at Blackstone Library BLACKSTONE – Blackstone Public Library, 86 Main St., announces the following adult pro- grams. • The Book Discussion Group will meet Tuesday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m. The selection for May is "Fall of the Marigolds," by Susan Meissner. • A Mixed Media Workshop with Jacqueline Volpe will be held Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. The workshop is for adult and young adult beginners and advanced artists. To register, please call the library at 508-883-1931. 1509 Mendon Road, Cumberland, RI 02864 401-333-7911 www.ccvcri.com We would like to welcome Dr. Holly Brown to our staff. 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