FARMINGTON — School representatives and law enforcement agencies plan to improve communication with new equipment and technology that will allow police to focus their attention on a specific area in emergency situations.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has received a $347,495 federal grant, with collaboration from police in Carrabassett Valley, Farmington, Jay, Rangeley and Wilton. School districts involved in the grant application in greater Franklin County are Regional School Unit 9 in the Farmington area, RSU 73 in the Jay area, Maine School Administrative District 58 in the Kingfield area, RSU 78 in the Rangeley area, and the Stratton school system.
The grant will provide for better radio systems, which is especially needed in the rural areas. It will cover schools from Livermore in northern Androscoggin County to schools in Eustis and Rangeley in northern Franklin County, which borders Canada.
The Healthy Community Coalition helped write the grant application and will be involved in implementation, according to Franklin County Sgt. Ryan Close, who was instrumental in the grant process.
“The grant is primarily for funding of equipment and technology and we’ve added the piece of training because equipment and technology is only so good when the people who know how to use it,” he said.
The money will pay for infrastructure improvements such as better door locks for schools and hardware, including reinforced doors, Close said.
Those involved are still working on the implementation and how it will work. It is a lot of information to go through, Close said.
“We are still sorting through that huge amount of information,” he said. “We know what we want to do.”
The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice through the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ School Violence Prevention Program. The government changed some of the budget items listed to better align with the federal program, he said.
It will also provide for law enforcement to improve communication with school staff. It will allow police to know where the issue is located and where they should focus attention during a threat, crisis or other emergency situation.
There is a 25% match from the school districts, depending on the budget for that school system. For instance, if there is a $10,000 budget, it would require a match of $2,500, Close said.
A committee with representatives of the coalition, all the school systems and law enforcement agencies will work out the fine details.
Close said they also plan to incorporate dispatchers at the Regional Communications Center and Maine State Police. When an emergency at a school rises to a certain level, all police and fire departments will respond, he said.
“We want to communicate efficiently and effectively,” Close said, and bring the agencies together to make certain everything goes smoothly in a crisis situation.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is the only agency in the state to receive the grant, he said.
“We are certainly very proud and very enthusiastic for the opportunity to improve the safety of our schools,” he said.
It was a team effort to apply and get this grant, Close said.