The small city of Jordan, Minn., is taking the extraordinary step of relocating its police force into the city's public schools, a direct response to the deadly school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Authorities said the move, believed to be the first of its kind in the state and one of the most aggressive responses in the nation to the attack, is a way to upgrade security without busting city and school district budgets.
"It's time for us to do something," said City Council Member Tom Boncher, among those who voted for the plan last week. "Cities and school districts can no longer wait for someone else to come up with solutions. ... It's on us to protect our kids and school staff."
The move, expected next month, is somewhat in line with the National Rifle Association proposal in the wake of the Newtown massacre that called for more armed personnel at schools. Jordan city and school officials believe officers coming and going from schools will be a deterrent.
The $20,000 plan calls for adding new police offices near the front doors and remodeling the main school entrances so all visitors are funneled past a police presence. New windows are being placed in the offices to increase their visibility.
Jordan officials point out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings in Colorado that killed 12 students and a teacher, there have been almost 50 mass school shootings in the United States, including two in Minnesota -- at Red Lake in 2005 and Cold Spring in 2003.
"These attacks have been going on for years and still no one has provided any hope of relief," Jordan Police Chief Bob Malz wrote in a Dec. 27 memo proposing the program. "It's time for a change. ... I dread the thought of being included in the sentence, 'We don't want what happened in Columbine, Red Lake, Cold Spring Rocori, Newtown and Jordan to happen in our community.'"
The Jordan plan addresses the biggest safety issues facing hundreds of school districts, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.
In a survey on school safety released this week, the group said that controlling access to buildings and increasing the presence of officers at campuses were the biggest concerns.
"We think that's a great way to collaborate with your community police," Greg Abbott, communications director for the MSBA, said of the plan.
Using the force
Jordan, with a population of about 5,500, has a police force of eight. Providing 24/7 police coverage, however, means that at most only three officers (including the chief) are on duty in the city at any one time, usually during the day and when schools are in session.
The city has only three public schools, so the plan will allow the city's police chief, its only detective and the lone day patrol officer to relocate during the school year to permanent offices at the high school, middle school and elementary school.
Construction on the new police offices was scheduled to begin this weekend, Malz said.
The officers will perform regular police duties -- responding to calls, writing reports, using computers or making calls from their new offices instead of the old City Hall offices.
Interrogations, evidence storage and recordkeeping will remain at City Hall. The police will work there during the summer, on school breaks and on non-school days.
"I have not heard of another district in the state, of another district in the country, doing this," said Deb Pauly, chairwoman of the Jordan school board. "I think we could be a model for other districts."
The closest parallel seems to be a policy in Colorado where officers and deputies in Douglas County were ordered days after Newtown to write arrest reports and do other paperwork in squad cars while parked in school parking lots.
Last week the Virginia State Police opened a satellite office at a school. But that was only to save travel time and give troopers access to computers. It did not involve the relocation of officers or command personnel such as in Jordan.
"I applaud their creative deployment of people," said Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell. "It certainly could work."
A simple plan
Malz, for example, is taking over the principal's office at the high school. The detective will use a converted storeroom at the middle school and the patrol officer will use a room now used for a food program.
The $20,000 cost of remodeling the schools and the purchase of computers and telephones for the officers is being borne entirely by the school district. Donated furniture will be used in the offices.
"This is a win-win for our district," Pauly said. "As a small district we could not afford to pay to have an officer full time in our schools."
But Malz is not sure if such a plan would work logistically in larger jurisdictions.
In Jordan, for example, the schools are all on the same block. Also, the police department is about a mile from the schools, which will minimize the time it takes to shuttle officers back and forth if needed.
Eagan Police Chief Jim McDonald applauds what Jordan is doing, but points out that in larger jurisdictions there are so many calls that officers would not be in the office much.
"It's great that they can take that kind of approach," said McDonald, who has 69 officers in his department. "We handle 50,000 calls for service a year. We have a lot of other entities that need to be patrolled."
Still, officials in Jordan are convinced that the changes and any inconveniences will be worth the increased security.
"We needed to do something different," Malz said last week as he planned for the relocation. "Let's give this a shot and see if it works."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281