CPD broadens focus with new Family Services Unit

CPD Family Services Unit: (l-r) Officer Scott Connor, Officer Sean Goode, Officer Glen Nix, Lt. Patty Sherrill, Officer Kevin Albert, Det. Chip Yeaton, Sgt. Chuck Rae, and Officer Ted Lehan (Mike Berger photo)

CPD Family Services Unit: (l-r) Officer Scott Connor, Officer Sean Goode, Officer Glen Nix, Lt. Patty Sherrill, Officer Kevin Albert, Det. Chip Yeaton, Sgt. Chuck Rae, and Officer Ted Lehan (Mike Berger photo)

The Canton Police Department has formed a unique Family Services Unit (FSU) that encompasses a wide range of issues that a family may face, from the dangers of substance abuse to domestic violence to matters of school safety.

In addition to an expanded school resource officer program, the FSU will handle all cases pertaining to juveniles as well as cases involving domestic violence, sex crimes, and internet crimes — all for an additional annual expenditure of $50,000 to $75,000.

“It is money well spent and I think  the town is getting the biggest bang for the buck,” said Police Chief Ken Berkowitz, who announced the formation of the FSU at the start of the school year.

Berkowitz appointed Lt. Patty Sherill to lead the new unit and named Sergeant Chuck Rae as the unit commander in charge of day-to-day operations. The unit also has school resource officers (SROs) at Canton High School, Galvin Middle School, and Blue Hills Regional Technical School, as well as liaison officers at each of the three elementary schools.

The middle school SRO position, which is split between Rae and Officer Ted Lehan, was approved at last year’s town meeting and took effect this past September. Berkowitz had made his initial pitch for the additional funds just weeks after the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, although the idea of an expanded program was actually decades in the making, he said.

“[The incident in] Newtown had no influence,” he said. “I had visions of this program way before. It’s been in my thought process for at least 20 years.”

Berkowitz said he first realized the importance of having a police presence in the schools after helping out with the high school wrestling team and other youth sports during his early days on the force.

Now the department boasts one of the most comprehensive SRO programs in the commonwealth, with an officer assigned to each school.

In choosing the officers for the program, Berkowitz said he was very selective and wanted individuals who were “bright enough, intelligent, caring, comminicative, dedicated and committed.”

At the high school, Detective Chip Yeaton, whose lengthy track record of success has served as a model for other community SRO programs, contines to be the full-time officer as well as the department’s juvenile officer in court. Yeaton also serves as president of the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officers Association.

The other veteran of the SRO program is Officer Scott Connor, who has developed a good working relationship with students and staff at Blue Hills Regional, his alma mater.

The FSU also has three officers who serve as “Adopt-a-School” liaisons during their regular patrol shifts: Kevin Albert at the Kennedy School, Glen Nix at the Luce, and Sean Goode at the Hansen.

Lt. Sherrill said the unit focuses on crimes affecting the family but also educates youth from the first years of school to the completion of high school.

“Hopefully we will build on those relationships throughout a student’s school progression,” she said. “This is a very positive program. We are here to help.”

Sgt. Rae is equally excited about the potential of the program, and his schedule was purposely planned so that he could be available to parents after school. Rae and Lehan were visitors to the summer recreation events at the high school, and Rae hopes to plan more of these events for middle and high school students this summer.

Rae said the elementary school liaisons are free to visit their respective schools as often as they want, provided they notify the station while on patrol. They have already met with principals and staff to review security and lockdown procedures, and staff are encouraged to contact them to discuss opportunities for classroom visits and presentations.

Rae said the unit is also planning additional programs for parents following the successful debut of “notMYkid,” a drug awareness presentation held at the CHS library in November. Rae said the event was “fantastic” and was followed by a lively question and answer period. Another presentation, focusing on internet safety, will be held either later this month or sometime in February.

School Superintendent Jeff Granatino described the SROs as a “tremendous resource” for both students and staff, and he remains excited about the potential of the program going forward.

“I think the additions to the program has gone extremely well, and I know they are looking forward to doing more work with students and staff in the classroom,” said Granatino. “This is just one more example of how the police and schools have been able to effectively collaborate, and I appreciate Chief Berkowitz’s efforts in bringing forth the idea to expand the program.”

See this week’s Citizen to read more about each of the officers in the new Family Services Unit.

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