MONTPELIER — There will be a changing of the guard for the police school resource officer in the Capital City.
Cpl. Matthew Knisely, who has been the SRO in the school system since 2012, will be replaced by fellow Officer Diane Mathews, effective in January.
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said the changes were not promotions but assignment changes with different duties.
“I would like to add that Corporal Matt Knisley had put in for a detective position, which is a special assignment within the MPD,” Facos said. “There was a competitive selection process for the detective opening and several members had applied for this special assignment.
“I am quite proud of Cpl. Knisley’s performance and accomplishments as a School Resource Officer for the Montpelier Public School System. This was an assignment he worked for the last five years, along with being the department’s representative and investigator on the Washington County Special Investigations Unit (serious child abuse and sex crimes),” he added.
Facos said it is planned to have some overlap time with the two officers to facilitate Mathews’ training in the SRO position, adding that both the detective and SRO assignments would be under the supervision of Det. Sgt. Wade Cochran.
“The department looks forward to the insights and talents that both officers will bring to their respective new duties,” Facos said.
Knisley started as a patrol officer with MPD in 2001 and was appointed SRO in 2012.
“It was an amazing opportunity to work within the community and work with kids in a very positive way,” Kniseley said. “It really is a great partnership between the schools and police to figure out ways to help kids be successful in life.”
Knisely noted that it was important to intervene early on in the lives of children and young adults in troubled times that might seriously impact them later on.
“When we can help intervene early in life, we can often make big changes without big consequences, through programs (like) restorative justice, and, sometimes, it’s just counseling,” Knisely said. “It’s just a great opportunity to help kids make it to that graduation date. Because we know, through a lot of research, that if people don’t get through high school and don’t graduate, then they’re much more likely to end up in the system, with real charges later on in life. So, it’s a great program when used correctly.”
Knisely noted that Montpelier is not immune to some of the serious problems with substance abuse and addiction but said Montpelier was better-placed than some communities to respond with services to address the problem and reduce the impact for young people of entering the corrections’ system.
One case Knisely referenced was former Montpelier High School student Nathan Giffin, who was shot and killed on the grounds of his alma mater after robbing a credit union across the street in January last year. Knisely, who was at the school when the police were notified about the robbery, was the first officer to respond and chased Giffin down the recreation path beside the school, cutting off his escape.
“It was certainly a memorable moment but not one I’m happy to remember,” Knisely said. “For that young man, things just really didn’t go well for him in life. It’s really sad that it ended the way it did. It was a tough day.”
In happier times, Knisely said he was able to work with families to make sure their children showed up to school and went on to graduate.
“The most rewarding moments are those kids that had some serious challenges and struggles getting there, and you feel like you had a little hand in helping them get to that point, and hopefully giving them a successful chance at life,” Knisely added.
Officer Mathews, who joined the force in 2016, said she had applied for the SRO assignment because of her interaction with children during her regular duties.
“I find it easy to talk to them, I have a good rapport with them, and they seem to respond well to me, and I enjoy being around kids of school age,” Mathews said. “It’s really important to be able to connect with them on all sorts of levels before they actually need a police intervention.”
Mathews said she has seen instances of children and young adults who could have fared better if they were in a “better head space” and provide them with appropriate counseling and mentoring to avoid problems later in life, and also to connect to other services available.
“I would like to be able to hit that angle with kids and see something that could be a turning point for them to go in a better direction,” Mathews said. “I’m big on community policing in what I do now, and I look forward to doing that in the school system.”