Gorham Town Clerk Laurie Nordfors swears in Officer Todd Gagnon as a school resource officer with Police Chief Christopher Sanborn looking on. Courtesy photo

GORHAM — While some nearby communities have opted to defund school resource officers, Gorham schools now have three on duty with the recent appointment of Todd Gagnon, who has patrolled town roads and highways for 20 years.

Gagnon has been assigned to the town’s elementary schools – Great Falls, Narragansett and Village. He joins ranks with Officer Mark Sanborn at the middle school and  Officer Michael Coffin, who fills the post once held by the late Wayne “Pooch” Drown at the high school.

Town Police Chief Christopher Sanborn said the town’s school resource officer program is vital for the community. It builds quality relationships with students, parents and school staff, he said.

“It’s role modeling and mentoring, a prime example of community policing,” Sanborn said.

Among school districts defunding school resource officer positions, Portland Public Schools in June eliminated SRO positions at Portland and Deering high schools in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Among the reasons were that students were often intimidated by police officers, that schools should handle their own security and safety needs and that the money to fund the SRO program could be better spent on mental health services for students.

But Daniel Jones, Gorham’s recently retired police chief now living in Florida, disagrees.

Jones this week extolled the value of school resource officers for their positive influence on students and the community at large. Under the circumstances, he said, he could not help but think of Drown, the popular high school resource officer who died of a heart attack last year at age 64.

“Ever since the talk of defunding the police, particularly SROs, has started, I can’t stop thinking about Pooch. All we have to do is look at Pooch’s funeral to know that taking SROs out of schools is a bad idea,” Jones said.

The “sheer number,” estimated at 2,500, of those who attended Drown’s funeral shows how many lives one school resource officer can impact, Jones said. Drown would have impacted numerous lives regardless of his job function, Jones said, but he had a much broader reach because he was directly connected to Gorham students.

“During the funeral, I asked the audience who among them was made to feel they were Pooch’s favorite. Several hundred hands went up,” Jones said.

“Sadly, for many of those who raised their hands, Pooch was the only one who made them feel that way with a majority of those being at-risk kids who need positive reinforcement more than anyone,” Jones said.

Gorham’s school resource officers are employed by the Police Department, but the School Department has “significant input into their hiring,” Superintendent Heather Perry said.

The school department pays to contract the school resource officers and the town pays their salaries, Perry said.

School resource officer serve from the schools’ perspective, Perry said. They need significant experience in law enforcement and with working with children. The must complete specific training as a resource officer.

Gagnon joined the Gorham Police Department in 2000. He has filled in as a resource officer at Gorham schools in the past and is certified as an SRO, Sanborn said.

 

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