Sophie Peterson was comforted to see Penobscot County sheriff’s Deputy Steve Boyd in the halls of Hermon High School last month when he became the first school resource officer in the district.
The 15-year-old Glenburn girl recognized Boyd from his days patrolling the Bangor suburb because he regularly stopped in at her Glenburn school to interact with students even though he was not a resource officer.
Sophie said that having him at the high school for part of each school day lowered her stress level concerning a possible school shooting. It also helped fellow sophomore Addison Waning, 16, of Hermon.
“A school resource officer helps everyone feel a bit more safe even if we didn’t know that we need to feel safe,” she said. “Even if school shootings don’t happen in Maine, just hearing about them in other places stresses students out. Helping people feel safer is good because you never know when it’s going to happen. And it could happen here.”
Boyd, 50, is one of two deputies working as school resource officers. He’s been on the job just a month. Deputy Danny Davis, 28, has been roaming the halls of the Center Drive School in Orrington since January. Davis attended the school for fifth through eighth grades, so being in the building has been a homecoming for him.
They are two of an estimated 70 police officers around Maine working full time in schools. Both communities decided last year to add school resource officers, but it took until this year to fill the positions due to a staffing shortage in the department. In 2020, the Portland School District removed officers from its schools and replaced them with social workers. Last year, Caribou did the same to support students’ mental health. The effort to remove police from public schools is part of a broader national movement to advance racial justice and combat structural inequities.
Hermon and Orrington have contracts with Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement. Having officers in the schools seemed like a logical extension of the department’s community policing philosophy, according to Sheriff Troy Morton.
“Our office has not had a deputy assigned to a school in two decades,” Morton said. “Funding, staffing and the ability to serve many schools impacted this concept. In this case, the supplemental law enforcement contracts helped bridge the gap, and the communities invested in their schools to fund the deputies’ positions.”
The school districts will spend about $115,000 per deputy for salary and benefits. The sheriff’s department supplies each officer with a cruiser, uniform and equipment. Deputies carry their service weapons on their utility belts in the schools.
While school shootings in other parts of the country were a factor in the decision to hire a school resource officer in Hermon, that’s not the only reason the district wanted to go forward with the idea, according to Superintendent Micah Grant.
“In discussions with other superintendents in our region with [school resource officers], they stated how much of an asset they are in assisting with drug use in schools, domestic issues that arise such as custody disputes that occur or violence in dating, traffic [control on campus] and preventative measures through curriculum instruction and presentations such as gun safety, healthy choices around relationships and refusal skills,” Grant said.
Boyd, who spends time each day in all three Hermon schools, has talked with Hermon students about social media safety skills.
The superintendent said that having a school resource officer in the district puts Hermon on par with nearby communities — Hampden, Bangor, Brewer, Old Town and others — that have resource officers in schools. Both deputies said they became school resource officers to have an impact on young people’s lives. Boyd and Davis interact with students as they move from classroom to classroom or to gym or out for recess.
Students greet the deputies with high fives and fist bumps. Both have lunch with students and visit classrooms to ask them what plans they have for the weekend, how much homework they have or whether the Celtics will win the NBA championship.
“I want to make sure this is a safe and secure environment for staff and students,” said Boyd, who worked in Brewer and Old Town before joining the sheriff’s office seven years ago. “I want to build relationships with these kids so they talk casually with me about whatever is going on in their lives. I’m not here as a disciplinarian.”
But both officers are notified if a family member of a student might have encountered police in the previous few days so they can check in with them to see how they are dealing with that situation.
Deputies, like school officials, are required by law to report suspected physical and sexual abuse.
Deputies Steve Boyd and Danny Davis are among an estimated 70 full-time school resource officers working across Maine. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Davis wants to build relationships with the students in prekindergarten through eighth grade at the Orrington school.
“I talk with them about sports, video games and the school projects they’re working on,” he said. “My goal is to help guide them through life.”
Judy Marvin, principal at the Center Drive School, agreed.
“It is a big advantage for students to be able to build this kind of a relationship with a police officer at such a young age,” she said.
Although Boyd years ago attended a training offered by the National Association of School Resource Officers, Davis said that his training has been on the job. Morton said that both deputies will attend training designed for school resource officers offered through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy with input from the Maine Department of Education.
Boyd and Davis spend the summer, school vacations and in-service days patrolling Hermon and Orrington, respectively.