Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Chelsea Merry walks into a classroom while working as a school resource officer at Madison Junior High School last year. Dozens of school districts in Maine have school resource officers. Regional School Unit 18, based in Oakland, soon will have a third officer for its eight schools. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

OAKLAND — The Town Council this week unanimously approved the hiring of a third resource officer for Regional School Unit 18.

With the move, it appears RSU 18 has more resource officers than most any other school district in central Maine. By comparison, Augusta has one such officer, Waterville has none and Fairfield-based Maine School Administrative District 49 has one.

RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley told the council Wednesday that he “desperately” wanted a third officer to cover the rest of the district on a rotation, beginning in the fall.

RSU 18 is comprised of eight schools in Belgrade, China, Oakland and Sidney. Four are elementary schools. One district resource officer is assigned to Messalonskee Middle School and another to Messalonskee High.

“We’re a very large geographic district,” Gartley told the Morning Sentinel on Thursday. “It’s a challenge; it’s something that’s been discussed for a while.”

School resource officers handle a variety of duties that make them invaluable, Gartley said.


“They’re part-time social worker, truancy officer, police officer, personal counseling for kids,” he said, later adding, “We prevent a lot of problems by having people like this in our schools.”

The superintendent said he is not worried that adding a third officer in schools would, in effect, over-police children.

“They’re looked at as a part of the support system for students,” Gartley said. “If it gets to a point where they’re looked at as strictly law enforcement that are in our schools then, yes, I would be concerned.”

Town Councilor Bob Nutting said Wednesday children today have a “warped perception of what police officers are like” from the news and social media. Adding another resource officer to district schools would present students with positive role models in the police force to counter that message, he said.

Gartley and others Wednesday said a police presence in schools is a deterrent to bad behavior and violence.

“By supporting these kids now, at the younger grades in our elementary schools, I think it prevents major issues as they get older and … can end up saving this district a lot of hassle,” Gartley said.


Many districts across Maine are taking similar steps as Oakland. Jeff Upton, president of the Maine Association of School Resource Officers, said Thursday he is seeing many schools starting school resource officer programs or adding to existing ones.

“I think Maine as a whole has always been supportive of school resource officers,” Upton said in an email, noting the exception of the school board in Portland that voted in 2020 to remove all school officers in response to protests about racial injustice and police reform.

Data gathered by the Maine Department of Education shows there were 38 school officers across 29 school districts in October. But those statistics, based on numbers gathered by education department staff, don’t include some central Maine districts with resource officers. Upton said his unofficial accounting has it at 70 to 75 school officers across the state.

Councilors were told Wednesday that the third position will be funded by the school district in perpetuity. The existing positions are 25% funded by Oakland, as school officers work as regular officers during vacations.

Oakland police were unavailable Thursday for comment. Police Chief Mike Tracy told the council Wednesday the department will not purchase an additional vehicle for the new hire. The three school officers will rotate the use of two cruisers.

Tracy said he already has a couple officers interested in working in the schools, but that hiring internally would mean the department needs to hire another patrol officer.

Oakland’s Police Department has only been fully staffed as of last week, when Officer Tifani Warren joined the force after seven years in Skowhegan. Tracy said Wednesday that finding and retaining staff is the “greatest challenge in police work right now,” and expressed doubt over the position being filled in time for a fall start.

“This is going to be a process,” Town Manager Ella Bowman said, explaining that the town has finalized its proposed municipal budget ahead of the May 2 Town Meeting.

To approve the item, she will reconvene the budget committee and host a second Town Meeting sometime in June, she said.

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