The possible termination of Jordan’s “Cops in Schools” program has left the southwest-metro city debating how to protect students.
The City Council voted on Monday to continue a pared-down version of the program — reducing the number of on-site officers from three to one — through the 2016-17 school year, while discussing how to fund alternatives. The three-year-old program, which stations police officers in satellite offices at no extra cost to taxpayers, gained national media attention when it was implemented following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Before the program, “communication between the School District and Police Department was, at best, minimal,” according to Deb Pauly, school board chairwoman.
“We all felt this was a win-win plan … and the School District bore the cost of making this happen,” Pauly said at Monday’s meeting.
The district has paid the Police Department $10,000 annually for the program. The nine-member department for the city of roughly 5,800 residents will move next April from scattered offices in City Hall to a new, bigger space — and Chief Brett Empey wants all officers under the same roof.
At Monday’s meeting, Empey suggested canceling the “Cops in Schools” program for the upcoming school year and instead hiring a full-time school resource officer.
Superintendent Matt Helgerson objected, citing the district’s recent remodeling project that included office space for police use.
Empey said he doubted the program’s efficacy. He noted that it reduces the department’s efficiency and face-to-face communication, and he cited technical problems with radio communication inside school buildings.
“It is very difficult for the Police Department to operate as a cohesive unit when we are occupying different offices in different places,” Empey said. “I am not consistently sure that school safety has been enhanced.”
Helgerson wasn’t convinced.
“The district believes that law enforcement presence has been positive and had a positive impact on our students, families and staff,” he said. “In my opinion, it is because of this program that the district and Jordan Police Department have a positive relationship.”
In 2001, the district hired a school resource officer but it cut the position in 2009 because of a lack of funding. After four years without law enforcement officers in the schools, then-Chief Bob Malz introduced the “Cops in Schools” program, which the City Council unanimously improved.
Since then, three officers, including the chief, have conducted work in the elementary, middle and high schools — all of which are located on the same block.
“Cops in Schools” has received mixed reviews from parents. Some praised the program, while others were skeptical of its success.
Lisa Bohnsack said at Monday’s meeting that the program “was such a huge sigh of relief.”
“There is no better feeling than when we pull up and see a police officer in the parking lot,” she said tearfully.
Others at Monday’s meeting, including former police officer Leah Patterson, recommended hiring a school resource officer. Patterson said she prefers an on-site professional to handle day-to-day problems such as bullying, thus freeing police officers to devote more time to other community members.
Another parent, Jessica Cloutier, criticized the program as giving a “false sense of security.”
The City Council and school board are planning to continue discussing how to fund a law enforcement presence in schools during the 2017-18 school year.