Brookings city councilors will take the discussion of hiring a School Resource Officer (SRO) to a regular meeting after concerns were voiced in a Monday evening workshop about inequities in paying for the position.
The council and Brookings-Harbor School District had tentatively agreed to split the cost of the position, estimated at about $50,000.
School Superintendent Sean Gallagher said such an officer — which was last used in the district in 2001-03 — would provide a sense of safety for students, teachers and administrators, improve relationships between police and teens and possibly even prompt some to enter the field.
“It’s a very, very effective program,” he said, noting that he has worked with districts in the past that have had SROs. “In our current times, (anything) revolving around safety can calm the waters and reassure our students and parents that our schools are safe.”
Police Chief Kelby McCrae agreed, noting that an SRO provides a deterrent to bullying and crime and works as a liaison between the schools and the city.
“They’re a resource for when you need a question about the law,” McCrae said. “If students in schools build a relationship with police officers, they see them as someone able to help, not someone to be afraid of. I’d like to see that translated to all officers.”
He noted anyone he might hire would be a seasoned, local police officer who understands the community and the challenges students might face at school. He’s talked about the position in general terms to some on his staff.
“We’d want someone who’s like a counselor, a kind of fatherly type,” he said. “Who knows how to talk to students, not talk down to them.”
If the city and school district agree on the new memorandum of understanding, an officer could be in the schools — there is specific school resource officer training required — by next school year.
The city council was originally on board with the idea of creating such a position, but in the past few weeks since it was last discussed, some are having second thoughts.
“I’ve thought about this from a lot of different perspectives,” said Councilor Dennis Triglia, who was attending the last meeting of his term. He listed 10 issues an agreement should outline and others he felt his fellow councilors should consider.
The primary problem he had with the idea of hiring an SRO is how the position is funded, to which other councilors agreed.
“The city should not have to pay for half of the cost of the SRO since many — if not the majority — of students live outside city limits,” he said. “How will (we) sell this to residents who, once again, will be forced to pay for expenses incurred by county residents?”
He reminded the council that they had agreed to discontinue paying its portion for maintenance of the Event Center on the Beach fairgrounds in Gold Beach. Also, he noted, city police often respond to incidents in Harbor that sheriff’s deputies can’t. Additionally, the city recently implemented a truancy court to help students stay in school — all issues that occur outside of the city’s jurisdiction.
“The county must be involved in further discussions regarding the SRO and should pay 25 percent of the total actual cost, including benefits,” he said.
He suggested the city pay 25 percent and the school district pay 50 percent, and asked who was going to pay for the SROs training, uniforms, radios and weapons. Other concerns addressed properly preparing the agreement to abide by civil rights requirements, include the school’s role in student discipline and issues around search-and-seizure, student interrogation and student record requests.
“Is the SRO program worth pursuing at all?” Triglia said. “A study in 2017 compared Kentucky high schools and found there was no statistically significant relationship between reported criminal violation rates and the presence of an SRO. Another study, done in 2011 across the nation, found that schools that increase their use of police actually see an increase in reported crime.
“If an actual decrease in arrests for assault and weapon possession is observed,” he added, “it could just be that the students will take these activities off campus to avoid the watchful eyes of the SRO.”
Ron Hedenskog, who will replace Triglia on the board this month, said he agrees, but feels the city will get a return on its investment. And Councilor Bill Hamilton said he’d like to see the city, school district, county and state school district contribute to the cost of an SRO.
“Federal grants are handed out left and right — all over the place, for anything,” Hamilton said. “Certainly this would be eligible for grant funding.”
John McKinney, a new councilor on the board, said he agreed that cost is an issue.
“If an SRO program is put together properly, it does a lot for the schools; it keeps kids safer,” he said. “But what is it going to cost if we have a critical incident in our schools? Is that county going to pick that up? Is the state? No, we are.”
He also suggested a cadet program be instated alongside the program to encourage youth involvement — and as a door to a possible career path in law enforcement.
The council will address the proposal at its next meeting Jan. 14.