After shooting, Brockton police chief welcomes changes to school police

Kyle Alspach

The decision by Superintendent Matthew Malone to put the school police under the command of a Brockton police captain ends a longstanding practice Police Chief William Conlon called “troubling.”

The school police force, which is armed and has full police powers, has for years reported to school administrators with no law enforcement background.

“Who was running the show was the question,” Conlon said. “Certainly having a schoolteacher tell them what to do didn’t seem like the right thing.”

Malone’s decision came on Monday, following a shooting outside the Brockton High School gym last Wednesday that left a former student with nonfatal gunshot wounds. Malone said he had been considering making the move since starting as superintendent in September, but expedited the changes after the shooting.

Police Capt. Leon McCabe is now stationed at the Brockton school police office at Brockton High, where he is supervising the nine-member school police force, Conlon said.

Ward 1 School Committee member Thomas Minichiello said he fully supported Malone’s decision, saying he believes the command structure of the school police has been highly questionable.

The school police force had most recently been supervised by James Hayden, executive director of operations and administration for the Brockton schools.

“Putting people that are trained in teaching and learning in charge of a gun-carrying police department, to me, is not the wisest move,” Minichiello said.

The school police will remain under McCabe’s supervision through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, according to Malone.

McCabe also will be assessing security in the Brockton schools as part of a review of the school police, Conlon and Malone said.

“Part of this is to bring in more eyes to help me look at the whole thing,” Malone said.

The superintendent is allowed to make such changes on a temporary basis, but it will be up to the School Committee to make a permanent policy change, said Ward 2 committee member Richard Bath, the board’s vice chairman.

Bath said he’s not convinced that school police should stay under Brockton police supervision on a permanent basis.

“If they are encapsulated into Brockton police I’m not sure if we’re going to get the same services,” Bath said. “We have a police force for the school district, but once you give it up, you never get it back. I’m reluctant to do that.”

When asked about this possibility, Conlon said the school officers would not be redirected to non-school issues.

“The School Department would continue to pay the salaries of those number of officers, with the guarantee that when schools were in session during the school year, those officers would be assigned to the schools,” Conlon said.

The school police serves as the main security force in the Brockton public school system, comprised of more than 15,000 students in 22 schools.

The debate over the future of the school police comes as questions remain about the whereabouts of school officers during last Wednesday’s shooting.

At the time of the incident, the two on-duty school officers were in their office several hundred yards from the gym, where numerous sports tryouts and other after-school events were taking place, according to school officials.

The 17-year-old shooting victim, who suffered gunshot wounds to his legs on the gym steps, was among a group of students who weren’t supposed to be allowed there, school officials said.

Malone has said he prefers school police officers to be on patrol instead of in their office, and said Tuesday he is continuing to probe the issue.

“I’m in the middle of looking at all the information as we speak,” he said.

Ward 3 School Committee member Janice Beyer said she believes school police should have been in the area of the gym, due to the large number of students and others there.

“My feeling is when you’ve got things like that going on the gym, someone should be there,” Beyer said.

In a related move, Malone said Monday that two security guards will now patrol Brockton High during after-school hours. The two guards will work from 2 to 9 p.m. and focus on discouraging people from hanging around the campus who don’t belong there, Malone said.

Meanwhile, the superintendent said he would like to hire a consultant to help him with his “top to bottom” review of the school police. Malone said he will seek funding for this soon.

The review will help him to craft his School Committee recommendation on permanent changes to the school police, he said.

Malone stressed that all of the moves are meant to help guarantee the safety of students in the Brockton school system.

“I’m holding myself responsible for the incident at Brockton High School,” Malone said. “Safety and security is my No. 1 priority. I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that.”

Kyle Alspach can be reached at kalspach@enterprisenews.com.