St. Albans Police Department officers responded to about 30 incidents in the Maple Run school district last month under the district’s new police liaison program, fewer than in September, when officers were stationed in the schools, data shows.
But beyond classifying those incidents into one of about two dozen categories, such as “juvenile problem” or “weapons offense,” the district has not shared many details about them — leading some school board members to ask for greater transparency.
The liaison program began Oct. 1 and includes two officers based at the St. Albans Police station who come into the schools when they’re called. It replaced the district’s school resource officer program, which had police stationed in school buildings.
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The officers in the liaison program don’t often wear a full police uniform, but they are armed and wear a camera, said Bill Kimball, the Maple Run superintendent.
When the board voted in August to end the resource officer program, a decision that followed months of debate and a study by a parent-led committee, board members said police were handling some duties that would be better performed by other district staff.
“Part of what we did here was to reduce the wrong person attending to a situation,” board member Joanna Jerose said at a meeting Nov. 17 after Kimball shared data on the liaison program. “How do we know, going further, whether or not the appropriate person is addressing the situation at hand?
Maple Run covers St. Albans City and Town, plus Fairfield.
Kimball said at the meeting that the data he shared, which is from St. Albans police, is insufficient and he’s aiming to give the board a more comprehensive report in March.
The district is setting up a system that will allow the collection of more details about an incident, he said, including what the responding officer did to intervene. Officials also need to balance reporting of detailed information with students’ privacy, he said.
“My sense is we’re getting the response that we want, after the board’s direction,” Kimball said in an interview about the liaison program.
Current data shows that police logged about 80 incidents in the schools in September, when the district had its resource officer program. About 35 of those incidents, though, were times when an officer was scheduled to be at the school to provide a security detail.
At the meeting Nov. 17, board members asked Kimball how the level of police response this fall compares with previous school years. The superintendent said it’s hard to say, as the district and the police department are doing far more tracking than they used to.
“It’s hard to compare because of the way we’re tracking data, even at the beginning of this (school) year,” he said in an interview.
In October, with the liaison program in place, five of the 31 incidents officers responded to are classified as a “juvenile problem,” defined in Kimball’s report as situations that “are not necessarily criminal,” but rather “a safety issue” for a student or their peers.
Officers also responded to one drug-related incident and three incidents involving the “possession of a deadly or dangerous weapon” last month, the report states.
Board members said they would like to know what types of weapons were found in those incidents. Nilda Gonnella-French, the board chair, suggested reports involving weapons or drugs should “have a little more information,” while still bearing in mind the need for privacy.
Kimball said liaison officers also provide some instructional support in the schools, such as in health programs or driver education. They’ve also responded to unauthorized parking and vandalism, among other issues, according to the report.
Overall, the October data shows liaison officers responded to 16 incidents at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, seven at St. Albans City School, six at St. Albans Town Educational Center and two at Fairfield Center School.
Bellows Free Academy Principal Brett Blanchard said police officers have been in the building far less frequently since the district switched to the liaison program.
“There’s really no comparison,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that local police have not been used. It’s not that. They’re not in here all day, or anywhere near all day.”
Reier Erickson, a Maple Run parent who advocated for more than a year for removal of school resource officers, said he agrees that the district needs to bolster the data it reports about the liaison program. He also thinks the number of incidents these officers are responding to is too high, he said.
“That seems like we’re just having an (school resource officer) under a different name,” Erickson said. “I think there needs to be more transparency with the situation.”
In an email, St. Albans Police Lt. Paul Talley referred VTDigger to the school district for comment and said the liaison program “is still very much in the early stages.”
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