Rochester school board okays another cop in the hallways

It was a close call, a 4 to 3 vote, but the Rochester Public Schools Board approved the hiring of another school resource officer — a cop — to begin as soon as the city and district settle on a candidate. The board’s action follows an extensive review of the need for and duties of police officers in the district last year, upping the total number of SROs in Rochester public schools to six.

“As we got into this year we did discover that there were times when incidents occurred when we had SROs moving across the city more frequently than is optimal,” Superintendent Kent Pekel said at the board meeting leading up to the vote.

The opening of new schools left the district stretched too thin with the current contingent of officers, leading principals to request additional help on the ground. So administrators took the unusual step of recommending the addition of an officer in the middle of the school year, according to KAAL-TV.

Superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel noted that the primary reason for this decision was not due to increased violence in schools. But primarily due to keeping up with the school district’s growth.

“We opened four new schools,” Pekel said. “and when you open four new schools you have an increase in the amount of territory that the officers need to be available for.”

The district says that ideal candidates will be someone who is specially trained to work with kids and de-escalating situations.

“These have to be people that love kids,” Pekel said. “They also have to do work that a cop on the street doesn’t necessarily need to do.”

The cost of the new SRO will be split by the city and school district, an expense of about $30,000 for the remainder of the year that comes out of a school safety fund. Yet the Post Bulletin reports some opponents on the school board questioned why the district would hire another police officer over other staff.

Garcia questioned the need for an additional officer, asking why that funding couldn’t go for an additional support role, such as a counselor or social worker. She prefaced her question by reiterating that school resource officers are not supposed to be involved in the disciplining of students.

Pekel explained that when the district opened Dakota Middle School, it used the same staffing formula for student support professionals as it had for the existing buildings. By comparison, it could not unilaterally increase the number of school resource officers without amending the contract with the city.

The district’s safety specialist also made the case to the school board for why officers who know the students and gain their confidence can make all the difference.

Prior to the vote on the additional officer, the school board received an update on the work the SROs do in the buildings. Julie Claymon, RPS coordinator of district safety and security, spoke about the difference between having a school resource officer, which is embedded in the schools, and a normal patrol officer respond to the schools when called.

She said school resource officers are better equipped to handle situations in the schools since they are more familiar with the environment, the staff, and the students. Because of that, she said, they are able to find better resolutions for problems than a traditional patrol officer.

The new SRO will enable the district to station a full-time officer at all three high schools and provide increased presence in middle schools. So after weighing the merits of SROs, Rochester affirms the importance of having police officers on site to engage with students and provide backup if and when needed.