By A.M. Sheehan

NORWAY — Statistically, Oxford County has consistently held either the top or second spot in the state for drug and/or alcohol addictions. This leaves a lot of high-risk children who have little positive contact with police. In most cases, the only police contact they have is when they are negatively impacted by the arrest of a parent.

So explains Norway Chief of Police Rob Federico in his application for a U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant.

Norway was one of seven law enforcement agencies in Maine that applied. In addition, a town also applied. County agencies that applied included Paris and Rumford police departments. Across the nation, 1,103 agencies applied for funding for 3,083 law enforcement positions for a total of $376,000,000 in federal funding.

Norway won an estimated three-year grant of $125,000, one the five grants awarded in Maine. Other grantees include the town of Fort Kent, Old Town Police Department, Winslow Police Department, and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.

Norway will use the funds to hire a School Resource Officer (SRO) for Guy E. Rowe School.

“Building a relationship based on trust and respect is important … to impact these children at a young age. … I would to train an officer to better serve this population and build relationships with both the students and staff … (to) make it safer for students, staff, medical personnel and the police. The town is committed to create an atmosphere of cooperation toward common goals … providing a safe learning environment … the prevention and reduction of juvenile delinquency and the promotion of positive attitudes regarding the role of law enforcement in society,” wrote Federico in his application.

“We need to build trust with the community,” explained Federico. “The officer would not be doing hall patrols, but building relationships with students, staff and parents. He or she would also be involved with the juvenile restorative justice program that addresses juvenile issues, keeping the youngster out of the justice system while still holding them accountable for their actions.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunity to interact with parents until things go bad,” Federico further explained. “This will give us the chance to get to know [the children and their parents] when things are good.”

The way the three-year grant works, the town will pay 10 percent of the cost of the position the first year, 30 percent the second year, then 60 percent and, ultimately 100 percent. The local share of the grant is a total of $65,000, noted Federico.

“This is an investment in the future,” he said, “that will reduce costs down the road. Pre-K through sixth grade is a crucial time to work with children and build relationships. Right now [in this age group] they really like us and we want to build on that. By the time they reach middle and high school, behaviors have been established.”

Federico said the officer will also be trained to help children with special needs and will come back to the department and train the other officers.

The next step in the process, he said, is for the town of Norway to formally accept the grant via a vote by the Board of Selectmen. Then the MSAD 17 Board of Directors will have to vote to issue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to have an SRO at the Rowe School.

Town Manager David Holt applauded Federico’s initiative. “He got authorization from the selectboard to apply for this and he did a heck of a job …  he wrote it, it’s all on him.”

Norway selectmen will vote at the Thursday, Oct. 1 meeting and the matter will be introduced to the SAD 17 board of directors at its Monday, Oct. 5 meeting.

“It’s a great opportunity that we are just learning about,” said Superintendent of Schools Rick Colpitts. He noted that the committee will have to learn what is involved so that it can determine if it is comfortable with the district issuing a MOU. “It will most likely go to the committee October 5.”

In the meantime, Norway is already advertising for candidates for the potential position looking for a “highly motivated, community minded individual with excellent communications skills. The notice notes the town is committed to hiring military veterans whenever possible. The application deadline is Friday, Oct. 9. Application packages can be picked up at the Norway Police Department.

“This is probably one of the most important things the police department can do for the future of the town,” Federico concluded.