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MA School Resource Officers take part in mental health training as Healey-Driscoll announce Missing Persons Unit



RANDOLPH – The Healey-Driscoll Administration has partnered with the National Association of School Resource Officers this week to deliver two specialized trainings on adolescent mental health and trauma-informed conflict resolution. Funded by the Municipal Police Training Committee, more than 70 school resource officers from across the Commonwealth received advanced education at no cost to them on fundamental strategies to better serve school communities, support student health and safety, and divert at-risk youth from justice involvement.

National Association of School Resource Officers instructors Dr. Janet Nease and David Osterquist present to the March 8 class at MPTC Randolph (Photo courtesy of MPTC)

This SRO program represents one of the many training initiatives that will be supported by the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) budget recommendation that funds MPTC at $20.2 million. The Administration’s proposal, which provides MPTC with a $6.7 million increase year-over-year, ensures the continuation of officer training requirements introduced in the 2021 Police Reform bill, including enhanced school resource officer training.

“The safety of our children, their teachers, and support staff is a priority of this Administration,” said Governor Maura Healey. “This training provides our school resource officers with the knowledge and tools they need to identify mental health concerns, connect at-risk youth with resources, and maintain a safe and supportive environment for our students to learn and grow.”  

“Our Administration’s budget reflects a commitment to school safety through its investment in the dedicated professionals who serve our kids,” Lieutenant Governor Kimberley Driscoll. “Funding for these training initiatives helps build positive relationships with students, provides peer support for teachers and staff, and develops the skills needed to create a culture of safety in our schools.”

To date, Massachusetts police departments have designated nearly 400 officers as SROs. In addition to their requirements as a certified police officer, these dedicated women and men complete a specialized training program for a secondary SRO certification by the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission. After completing a 40-hour Basic Training focused on building positive relationships with students of diverse backgrounds and establishing successful partnerships with administrators, staff, and the community, they subsequently complete the adolescent mental health and trauma-informed conflict resolution course offered by MPTC and NASRO. Last year, the course’s first, MPTC offered more than 30 sessions across the Commonwealth.

“Feeling safe in school is fundamental to achieving the best educational outcomes for students and educators. Robust School Resource Officer Programs staffed by well-trained school resource officers are instrumental to promoting school safety, engaging at-risk students with proactive mental health support, and mitigating threats of violence,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy. “I want to commend the MPTC, NASRO and the school communities for their commitment to ensuring that school resource officers have the skills, knowledge, and positive relationships required to meet the needs of schools across the Commonwealth.”

SROs also complete specialized annual in-service training in addition to their normal police officer in-service requirements. In 2022, 600 SROs fulfilled their specialized in-service requirement by attending a 2-day, in-person MPTC conference in Norwood or Southbridge. Program topics included: LGBTQ+ awareness and support, interviewing juveniles, and insights from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In more than a decade of offering SRO training, MPTC has partnered with many stakeholders, including the Department of Youth Services, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Family Resource Centers, and the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officer’s Association to ensure SROs receive training that is informed by the diverse perspectives and lived experiences of system stakeholders.

“The MPTC understands the significant importance of safety in our schools and communities and remains focused on supporting the development and delivery of world class training for Law Enforcement throughout the Commonwealth.” said MPTC Executive Director Robert Ferullo (Ret. Police Chief). “Collaboration with subject matter experts, advocates and community organizations ensures we are equipping officers across the Commonwealth with relevant and vital resources.”

“The information that this course provides is essential to SROs, because approximately 20% of adolescent students have mental health issues,” said NASRO executive director Mo Canady. “By enabling SROs to recognize behavior that’s often linked to mental health needs, we can help officers de-escalate situations, avoid student arrests and connect students with appropriate resources.”

The Healey-Driscoll Administration also announced a statewide training for 300 members of law enforcement focused on missing persons and unidentified human remains investigations. The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, in coordination with the Municipal Police Training Committee and the Massachusetts State Police, hosted a virtual training on March 7, 2023, to offer municipal police agencies advanced education on best practices, digital evidence techniques, and a review of forensic services to bolster investigations and support improved outcomes.

In addition, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) Budget proposes $300,000 to establish a Missing and Unidentified Persons Coordination Unit that will support municipal law enforcement and strengthen statewide coordination on the handling of missing and unidentified persons cases. The new unit will designate several full-time positions at the state level to enhance stakeholder collaboration, advance continued policy development, participate in the development of training curriculum, and lead the standardization of data collection and uniform reporting.

“Our first budget proposes funding to establish a statewide resource to enhance coordination and underscores our commitment to strong state and local partnership,” said Governor Maura Healey. “Trainings will offer vital insights into the technology, forensic services, and investigative supports that help to improve investigations, resolve cases, and provide families and communities with the answers they desperately need.”

“This initiative is important for local law enforcement and the communities they serve as it provides the resources needed to assist these complex investigations and help reunite missing people with their loved ones,” said Lieutenant Governor Kimberley Driscoll. “This collaborative partnership is an important step toward providing the knowledge and tools required to enhance investigative standards and keep our communities safe.”

The training included a presentation on the investigative application of digital evidence to locate missing persons, including how to acquire forensic data, analyze geolocation records, and articulate results in real-time. Participants also received an overview of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the United States.

Funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice, NamUs provides forensic and analytical services at no cost to law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, and allied professionals, to assist family members of missing persons. Training participants learned how to maximize the use of NamUs as an investigative resource and access the available forensic services.

“A missing loved one has a devastating impact on family, friends, and entire communities. EOPSS remains committed to supporting law enforcement’s investigatory efforts to locate missing people and provide answers to despairing loved ones,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy. “We will continue to offer local police agencies enhanced education and look forward to establishing a statewide Missing and Unidentified Persons Coordination Unit as part of our shared commitment to improve systems, resolve cases, and support the families of missing loved ones. I commend MPTC, the State Police, NamUs, and our many participating municipal police agencies for their steadfast dedication to supporting this vital effort.”

Over 300 police officers participated in the training that took place on March 7, 2023. The MPTC hosted the forum online to maximize statewide outreach and offer convenient, accessible training for law enforcement across the Commonwealth. The course curriculum provided participants with model policies and procedures, investigative tactics, and a comprehensive review of digital evidence techniques and available forensic services.

“The MPTC supported the development of this specialized training initiative with our state and advocacy partners to provide local law enforcement with the expertise and skills needed to advance missing and unidentified person cases, enhance investigative strategies, and strengthen the existing framework. We remain committed to ensuring officers are equipped with the latest techniques and proven practices to achieve the strongest possible outcomes,” said MPTC Executive Director Robert Ferullo (Ret. Police Chief).

“As investigators, we know all too well the agony that families endure when someone they love has gone missing. Many of us in the MSP have had to tell relatives that our best efforts did not locate their loved one, and we see the devastation in their faces,” said Massachusetts State Police Interim Colonel John Mawn Jr. “The State Police fully support this specialized training for police officers across the state and stand ready to assist any local department that needs our help to search for a missing person.”

“The resolution of these cases relies on applying multiple investigative techniques, strong coordination, and enhanced data collection. Multiple shareholders, including families of the missing and murdered as well as non-profits, such as the Molly Bish Center for the Protection of Children and the Elderly, have been tireless advocates for advanced law enforcement training and the use of the latest technology. We commend this collaboration and look forward to the continued advancement of this effort,” said Dr. Ann Marie Mires, director of Forensic Criminology at Anna Maria College and a Forensic Science Oversight Board member.

As of March 1, 2023, Massachusetts law enforcement had reported to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) a total of 1927 active cases, including 1908 missing persons and 19 unidentified human remains.

The March 7 forum marks the third training convened by EOPSS in response to recommendations put forth by the state’s 2020 Missing Persons Task Force Report. EOPSS held training in 2021 and 2022 to equip local law enforcement agencies with best practices and investigative techniques while strongly urging agencies to submit missing person data to the NamUs central repository. As part of an ongoing statewide effort to enhance missing and unidentified person investigations, over 200 police personnel have participated in these training sessions at no cost.

With a network of nearly 20 operated and authorized police academies, a dynamic virtual learning platform, and a commitment to use shared spaces to deliver training across the Commonwealth, MPTC will continue developing additional specialized training on missing persons and unidentified human remains, designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of model policies and procedures for handling these complex cases.

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