Another school district opts to keep cops in the corridors

All of a sudden the fervor for purging schools of police officers appears to be falling flat. The ‘no cops in the corridors’ campaign gained momentum in the aftermath of the unrest over George Floyd’s death. Some school districts quickly caved to activist demands for their removal, including Hopkins, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Yet several communities outside the Twin Cities took a more thoughtful approach, avoiding a knee-jerk reaction either way by weighing the pros and cons of cops in the hallways. The Free Press followed the most recent school district to come down in favor of keeping school resource officers in the corridors, in the southern Minnesota city of St. Peter.

It’ll be a continuation of a longtime partnership between the city and district, although under different funding terms.

“Previously the school was responsible for 60%,” said City Administrator Todd Prafke during the council’s November meeting. “Now it has been modified to 70% and the city is responsible for 30% of the employment cost.”

A full-time officer with benefits costs about $123,000. The officers will spend about 62% of their time working directly on school district issues.

Their outlined duties range from patrolling school properties to deter crime to assisting with traffic control to serving as a resource on police policies. They’re expected to be present during lunch periods and school programs when possible to build rapport with students, staff and community members.

The decision follows dueling campaigns that initially led the district to plan on cutting one of the two school resource officer positions. But the campaign to keep police in the hallways garnered more than 2,000 online supporters, making the case that schools need them now more than ever. It was also a personal issue in St. Peter, since many parents know the resource officer scheduled to be cut.

Officer Winsell, known to many as OT has been working for St Peter school district for many years. He has spent countless hours building long lasting relationships with the students in this community. He has selflessly given himself to ensuring that we, as parents, can feel secure in knowing that our children are safe when we send them to school. OT has gone beyond keeping our children safe, he has been a shoulder to cry on, an encourager, motivator, father figurer, role model and friend. His training, experience and relationships he has with the students, parents and teachers gives him the ability to not only keep our schools safe but to make a difference and change lives.

A factor in the decision not to forgo police presence in St. Peter apparently included the reality that many schools face increasing disciplinary issues following the return to in-person learning.

During the St. Peter City Council’s meeting in November, Council member Keri Johnson noted an uptick in assaults came up during discussions. She asked if the police department could break out stats for school-related incidents.

Prafke said he’d look into ways to separate school-related assaults from other assaults.

Due to the difficulty of recruiting police officers these days, one of the resource officer positions in St. Peter schools remains open. But rest assured “OT” will continue to be available to both staff and students as needed.