Local schools using ‘drug money’ to improve safety

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / November 13, 2011

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Weymouth school officials are beefing up the security system at Abigail Adams Middle School, thanks to a grant from the Norfolk district attorney’s office using money seized from drug dealers and other criminals.

The grant is a welcome gift in Weymouth, where officials are still smarting from a break-in at Maria Weston Chapman Middle School in July, when vandals smashed windows, computers, and televisions, causing about $80,000 damage. Now the Chapman and Adams schools will have better security systems.

Weymouth’s grant was one of several “school safety grants’’ recently awarded to local public school districts by Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey’s office. All of the money had been confiscated from drug dealers and organized crime, according to Morrissey. Now, instead of financing criminal activities, the money is being invested in schools “to make them more secure,’’ he said.

Every year, police confiscate bundles of cash from drug dealers. It is used to defray the costs of drug investigations and prosecutions, such as wiretapping, evidence testing, and witness expenses for trials. But some of the money goes back to the community in other ways.

In Bristol County, forfeited drug money has been used to host free sports clinics for children and provide at-risk youth with chances to try sailing and play basketball, tennis, and baseball, according to Gregg Miliote, spokesman for Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter.

The Plymouth district attorney’s office has used money from drug busts to fund drug investigations as well as drug education initiatives for young people, says Bridget Norton Middleton, spokeswoman for the elected prosecutor, Timothy J. Cruz.

Every summer a drug education camp is held for fifth- and sixth-graders in Plymouth County, she said. Community resource officers run the week-long camp, and students in high school and junior high school serve as peer leaders. Last summer it was held at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School.

“The kids love it,’’ she said. “It gives them fun things to do while giving a positive message.’’

In Norfolk County, Morrissey doled out $21,000 as school safety grants to seven school districts. He wrote to all of the school superintendents in his area in August, offering them the opportunity to apply for grants to fund any capital improvement that would make students and facilities safer. Morrissey said his office received seven applications that fit the criteria and they were all approved.

Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, Norfolk County Agricultural High School in Walpole, and the public school systems in Braintree, Medfield, Quincy, Wrentham, and Weymouth each were awarded $3,000, according to Morrissey’s office.

Quincy is using the grant to fund the purchase of outdoor security cameras, according to Michael Draicchio, director of safety, security, and transportation for Quincy Public Schools.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,’’ he said. “This is important to us right now.’’

The outdoor cameras will help staff monitor who’s coming in and out of buildings, he said. The hope is that the cameras will deter young people from tagging or vandalizing property, he said.

“We’re looking to increase surveillance to keep our schools as safe as possible,’’ he said.

The grant was also too good to pass up for the Weymouth public schools, especially in light of the vandalism in July. “We were the fortunate recipients of a $3,000 grant,’’ said interim schools superintendent Matthew Ferron, who credited grants manager Stephen Gould for getting the funding.

Vandals broke into the Chapman and smashed televisions, computers, and other equipment. All told, they caused approximately $83,000 in damage, according to the Norfolk district attorney’s office.

“It was a bad scene,’’ said Ferron. “We put [the grant application] in to help pay for some additional security systems.’’

Ferron said school officials are evaluating the best possible alarm and security systems for Adams school, and hope to have the system in place soon. The system at the Chapman was improved following the July attack.

The money doled out by Morrissey’s office was seized in a number of local drug busts. One was an OxyContin trafficking case that wrapped up in court in February 2010 and resulted in the forfeiture of $68,412 to the state, according to David Traub, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.

In another case, police executed a search warrant at a home on Putnam Street in Weymouth and found a safe in the suspect’s bedroom, where they recovered $13,130 in cash, 49 grams of cocaine, two 9mm handguns, ammunition, and a digital scale.

All of the money was forfeited, said Traub.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

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