More than 'the hammer': Resource officer joins Cape Elizabeth schools

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The town’s first school resource officer says he hopes to be more than a cop to the kids. 

“This is more of a partnership and a resource than just a guy who’s going to try to get kids in trouble,” Officer David Galvan said Sept. 5.

After some debate between the School Board and Town Council last spring, the town adopted a $12.4 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2019 that included $90,000 for the Police Department to pay for the SRO. 

Galvan has worked for the Cape Elizabeth Police Department for eight years. After three years on patrol, he was promoted to community liaison officer. In that capacity he spent much of his time in the schools, both responding to incidents and just “hanging out.”

“Because I enjoy talking to the kids and like to have fun, I would make it a point to come every day if I could to hang out,” he said. 

When he started as community liaison officer, the School Department would call when he was needed. But Galvan said he wanted the kids to know him on a more personal level.

“I didn’t want to be the hammer,” he said. “I didn’t want people to see me just when it was something bad. I wanted them to get to know me and have a positive relationship with the kids.”

And that’s what Galvan thinks the SRO position will accomplish. He’ll be based in an office at the high school, but will circulate between all three public schools weekdays from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. 

Galvan and John Holdridge, volunteer and extended learning opportunities coordinator, are also co-advisers for a group of about 14 freshmen and will be for their four years at the high school.

“Because he’s not always going to be around and I might not always be there, it makes sense to share it like that,” Galvan said. “It’s exciting that I’ll be able to impact these kids and be there for them.”

Since his first official day on the job was Tuesday, Galvan said he’s still learning what his day-to-day role will be, so he’s been looking to SROs in surrounding communities for guidance. 

“I’ve been speaking with (South Portland SRO) Alfred Giusto to figure out what he does on a daily basis so I can maybe do something similar,” Galvan said. “I told administration that I don’t want to just be doing laps around the school. I want something to do.”

Because he’s been a presence in the schools for many years, Galvan said he’s already formed bonds with students, notably the sixth-graders he accompanied to Camp Chewonki last year. 

“My primary job is the safety of the school and safety of the students, but I feel like I can be used for other things as well,” Galvan said, including school programming.

This, however, won’t include giving out detentions or issuing summonses in the halls. Discipline, he said, will go through the usual school channels.

“The vice principals handle (discipline) … I could help them if they need it, but I will not be doing any discipline,” Galvan said. “I do not want to impact the way they’d normally do business.”

Galvan said having an officer assigned to the schools could deter bad things from happening, but it doesn’t eliminate potential threats. Although those threats are impossible to predict, Galvan said he hopes his constant presence in the schools will provide a sense of comfort, and encourage staff and students to approach him if they need help or see someone else who may. 

“My personal belief is that … a prison should be the safest place in the world,” Galvan said. “… There’s 24-hour security, locked doors and cells. … But bad stuff still happens in prison because of the clientele. You can make a facility the safest place, but if there’s one person who’s having issues, they can still cause damage. It’s more about being aware of the community you’re in.”

Galvan said he recognizes the importance of his job and is honored to work for such a “welcoming” community. 

“It’s a privilege to work here and to protect these kids,” Galvan said. “… Cape Elizabeth is an awesome community.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

David Galvan, Cape Elizabeth’s first school resource officer, greets students outside Pond Cove Elementary School with high-fives, fist bumps and hugs. 

Officer David Galvan is Cape Elizabeth’s first school resource officer.