School resource officers in the largest city in western Massachusetts will now be required to receive training from a national organization.
Two incidents this past school year where Springfield police officers had physical altercations with students led to the School Department and the Police Department agreeing to a new policy specifying the training police must have before they can work inside a school building.
Under the terms of an amended five-year agreement signed this past June by city and school officials, all officers assigned to schools must be certified by the National Association of School Resource Officers. Up to now, the training had been suggested but not required, according to Springfield School Committee Vice-Chairman Chris Collins.
"It gaurantees that all our officers will be trained," said Collins.
The new agreement, as in the past, underscores that police officers are responsible for security and investigating criminal activity and student discipline is to be left to school administrators.
" We are going to provide some additional training in de-escalation that we put all our administrators through. It is a good idea for police officers to know how school administrators have been trained to behave, so when they do interact with kids it is in a similar manner," explained Collins.
A review of the school resource officers program was announced last April after a police officer shoved a student to the ground at the Kiley Middle School. The officer, Lawrence Pietrucci, was suspended for five days without pay and removed from the unit assigned to the schools.
Last December, a school resource officer grabbed a student by the neck in a hallway at Commerce High School. A video of the incident that was widely circulated on social media caused a public outcry. An investigation by the Hampden District Attorney resulted in Officer Angel Marrero being charged with assault and battery and filing a false police report. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Collins said there was never any consideration to removing police officers from city schools because of these incidents.
" That's not the way I think anybody on the ( School) Committee would like to go, or a majority of the citizens of Springfield, I believe, understand it is good to have security and police officers there in the schools." said Collins.
Police have been assigned to the high schools and middle schools in Springfield for at least 25 years. At the announcement in April about reviewing the program, Acting Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said having police in schools has been a largely positive experience.
"A lot of students we hear from love the cops in schools and they turn into mentors and do good things and some students go on to be police officers because of the role models we have in the schools," said Clapprood.
The police unit assigned to the Springfield schools is known as the Quebec Team. It consists of two sergeants and 17 patrol officers.