Cop at MDI High debated



BAR HARBOR — School officials are once again thinking about having Officer Tim Bland, the Bar Harbor Police Department’s school resource officer (SRO) at Conners Emerson School, spend some of his time at Mount Desert Island High School.

The idea was floated three years ago, but there was no follow-up.

High School Principal Matt Haney told the school board Monday night that he and Superintendent Howard Colter have spoken with Jim Willis, the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police chief, about the possibility of having Bland at the high school, perhaps just at lunchtime.

“The main purpose would be to continue to build a relationship where students view police officers not as the enemy or ‘the man,’ but as another person who can help them when they need it and who cares about them and is willing to hold them accountable when they don’t do what they’re supposed to,” Haney said.

This is Bland’s sixth year as SRO at Conners Emerson. His presence provides an extra degree of security, school officials say, but his primary role is as a counselor, confidant and friend.

High school board member Melisa Rowland said she had “grave concerns” about bringing an SRO to the school. Rowland, a psychiatrist on the faculty of the Medical University of South Carolina, specializes in youth and criminal justice issues.

“The research data supports that adding school resource officers to high schools increases the odds that (students) go into the juvenile justice system,” she said. “I really feel passionately about this.

“Putting an officer in an elementary school is one thing. But putting them in the high school, in uniform, in that role … doesn’t jibe well with development, and it does not jibe at all well with adolescent male development.”

School board member Mike McKee said he has heard positive comments from parents of Conners Emerson students about the SRO program there.

“To clarify, this isn’t an armed security guard with a metal detector wand who’s policing the children,” he said. “He’s someone to chat with … and an opportunity for the students to be familiar with the officer as a person, not as someone who’s harassing them.”

Colter said that would be the SRO’s role at the high school as well.

“Seeing increased tension or arrests is not at all what we have in mind,” he said. “If we saw the beginnings of anything problematic, we would slam the brakes on it immediately.”

Colter said he envisions the SRO spending no more than 20 percent of his time at the high school.

Both Rowland and fellow board member Laura Hendricks asked what problem the board would be trying to solve by bringing an SRO to the high school.

“What’s our goal?” Hendricks asked.

Willis said Tuesday that he attended a session on SROs at the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police last fall.

“I wanted to learn more about the school resource program that I inherited here,” he said. “I know it’s been very successful to date.”

Willis said he contacted Colter to talk about “what the schools want from our SRO and make sure we’re accommodating everyone’s need. It really wasn’t about the high school, but that came up during our conversations.”

Haney said he wanted to get feedback from the school board before continuing discussions about an SRO. Board members agreed to have the matter on the agenda for their Feb. 9 meeting.

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