Zero complaints a year after Rochester considered banning cops in schools

The question of what to do about school resource officers burned up countless hours of discussion by the Rochester Public Schools Board prior to this academic year. A last-ditch effort by some board members to eliminate officers in the hallways at this time last year almost pushed Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Ken Pekel over the edge.

“I wish that I did not believe we need police officers in our schools; I have reluctantly concluded that we do,” Pekel said. “We have spent exponentially more time on school resource officers than we have on literacy or any academic subject. I don’t think that’s inappropriate, but it’s important to keep in mind.”

In the end, the school board agreed to allow school resource officers, a fixture for years in Rochester schools, to remain on the job with a more clearly defined job description.

SROs are not involved in determining student discipline, and they are not involved in addressing student misconduct that does not involve suspected criminal conduct. RPS staff will consult with SROs to the extent necessary to report any potential criminal activity at school or a school-sponsored event or activity. Potentially criminal behavior may be referred to law enforcement even if it does not involve violent or threatening behavior.

What a difference a year makes. Recently the issue of whether to renew the school district’s $420,000 contract for six SROs for another year appeared on the board’s agenda. It came up well in advance of the July deadline to reup the officers, presumably to allow for last minute surprises again. But this time, the Post Bulletin notes, there was no longer a debate over the officers’ value to students and staff.

Even though the district continues to monitor and evaluate its relationship with the Rochester Police Department, board member Karen MacLaughlin indicated that the situation has improved over what it used to be. She also emphasized the district’s progress in separating discipline data from data involving the actions of the SROs.

“I think that’s been a major goal since we started looking at this issue,” MacLaughlin said. “I appreciate there’s nowhere near the level of angst and anxiety when talking about this contract this time around that there has been previously.”

A report compiled for the board detailed the number of incidents requiring SROs to intervene with students through February. The results show only a handful of cases were referred by officers to the courts.

“The total number of students who are being involved in any incident with SROs, given that we serve about 17,500, is low,” Superintendent Kent Pekel said. “Of those students who are involved in an incident with an SRO, the vast majority are resulting in no action, restorative justice, or some kind of action that does not take them into the juvenile justice system in a formal way.”

One of the only concerns expressed by a board member was a request for more details on how officers managed to resolve so many incidents without involving the legal system.

School Board member Jess Garcia said the district should provide more context in the report when there are no actions taken by the police department. She used the example of disorderly conduct.

“There were 38 incidents and 26 of them resulted in no action,” Garcia said. “To me, that means we did nothing when I get that means we actually did something else rather than getting the kid in trouble and putting them in the criminal justice system.”

One more statistic also stood out.

“We have received no complaints about the performance or behavior of any individual school resource officer from any student, parent, or staff member in Rochester Public Schools over the past year,” Pekel said.

The controversy over whether police officers belong in Rochester schools appears to be a thing of the past.