Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo remembers when his father, former Cambridge Police Chief Anthony Paolillo, first assigned a school resource officer – an unarmed uniformed police officer – at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in the 1980s.
"It was a great addition to the school and he felt they were able to resolve many potential issues," said Paolillo.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings Friday that left 26 students and teachers along with the gunman dead at the school, Paolillo and the other members of the Board of Selectmen – Andy Rojas and Ralph Jones – indicated that restoring a school resource officer to at least Belmont High School would be high on their list of priorities for this budgetary cycle.
Speaking after Monday's Board of Selectmen's meeting, Dec. 17, Paolillo said Belmont High School once had a full-time officer in the schools until the mid-2000s when budget cuts forced the elimination of the position to allow the department to keep a uniformed officer on patrol duty.
Currently, a Belmont officer is on-call of any event or incident at the Chenery Middle School.
But with the killings at Sandy Hook, the time is now right to proceed with adding to safety measures to Belmont schools, said Paolillo.
At a press conference earlier in the day, Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said that he would support an officer being located in the High School.
The concept of a police officer returning to the High School and optionally the Chenery Middle School campus is supported by experts in school safety.
Katherine Newman, the dean of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University who wrote a book, "Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings," said on WBUR's "Radio Boston" program Monday that schools with resource officers – who walk the hall, sit down with students at lunch and are active at school events – were better able to identify those who could potentially commit a violent act.
Newman said that in nearly all cases, fellow students who hear "hints" of future violent acts by another student were able to easily reach out to the officer.
"Kids felt more comfortable coming to (school resource officers) because they perceive that they will do something and ... they're (not) part of the school hierarchy" so the students will not be seen as compromising their own social standing for pointing out a fellow student "and that is very helpful," said Newman.
Paolillo said despite the current budgetary outlook for fiscal 2013 being "very lean" – the town is currently planning for a two percent decrease in general government local aid from the state – he said plans are underway to seek either federal law enforcement grants or any new funding sources that may emerge from the state or from Washington DC directed towards school safety measures.
Any outside one-time funding to add a position to the town's payroll will come under the scrutiny of Belmont's Warrant Committee which makes recommendations whether the annual Town Meeting should approve or reject the funds.
In the past, the committee has frowned on "one-time money" funding long-term projects or positions, questioning where the needed revenue will come from to continue the line item once the funding ends.