Columbus school resource officer contract renewed
The Columbus School District will continue to have a police officer on-site for at least the next year and a half.
The position will be funded jointly by the Columbus Police Department and the school district with the district paying a maximum amount of $30,000 per school year.
At a Dec. 19 special hearing of the school board, Superintendent Jeff Bermes broached the topic, saying he wanted to evaluate if the school wanted to continue in the shared expense of the program. On the pro side, Bermes cited that students now see the positive role of police and said the “legal presence in our hallways” and as well as discipline matters have been well addressed by the SRO position.
On the negative side, Bermes said that for the past six to eight months, the SRO had not been in the schools on a regular basis and that in that time, there had not been an increase in illegal activity or discipline matters. The bottom line, Bermes said, was that he wanted to school board to re-evaluate to see if it was still worth $38,000 the school was previously paying.
Bermes also pointed out the rise in need for aids and reduced funds from taxable valuation and expected legislative cuts — making the issue not one of effectiveness but rather financial burden.
Columbus Police Chief Jacob Ward addressed the board, saying that the SRO position had been in place for four years. Due to staffing shortages, the SRO had not been in the schools for the past six months, but the school had not been charged for that time.
Ward, who had been the SRO prior to being named chief, proposed a $30,000 flat fee for the school district with the guarantee of the new SRO — Officer Gary Timm — being in the schools each day.
Ward also spoke of work still to be done in the schools and the advantage of being able to help mold kids in a setting other than the criminal justice system.
Bermes was admittedly torn, saying a price could not be put on the safety of children. He then recommended to the board to enter into the agreement for the remainder of this school year and the 2017-2018 school year, at a rate of $30,000 a year.
Board member Jason Wells, who is a Laurel police officer and was at one time an SRO, said the impact an officer makes daily on kids is “more than we realize.” Wells also said an SRO often bridges the gap between law enforcement and social worker.
Board member Joe Morse said he sees the biggest benefit as kids developing a positive relationship with police. That sentiment was echoed by board member Deb Crutcher who said “it makes a huge difference” in how kids feel toward law enforcement.
“I definitely want to keep the program going,” said Crutcher.
Also speaking was audience member Amy Ward, who is active with the Columbus PTA as well as being Ward’s wife. She spoke of the high number of foster children in the Columbus school system with mental health issues who are benefitting from the SRO position.
“It’s a resource they can go to for help. Not a resource they run from,” said Amy Ward.
She also said that many parents have told her that their children are no longer afraid of police.