Douglas gets federal grant for officer at Douglas High School |

Douglas gets federal grant for officer at Douglas High School

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

In an effort to build a bridge between the police and young people, a Douglas County sheriff’s officer will be stationed at the high school full-time by next month thanks to a $125,000 grant.

Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said a school resource officer is something he has wanted for three years. It is now a reality with the help of a $125,000 federal Justice Department grant.

“It is something I didn’t want to give up on,” he said. “I think the clear message is, as a law enforcement entity and a school district, we’re doing everything we can to make the campuses safe. It may not be 100 percent, but we’re doing everything we can.”

Pierini said there is interest within the department for the position. He said he hopes to complete the selection process within 30 days. Six officers have been involved for the past year with the school safety intervention team, which deals with students and their parents to resolve problems at the school.

The safety team was created as part of a $70,000 grant received two years ago to create the school’s peer court. The officers see the court’s sentences are carried out. This year, the school district raised funds to pay for an officer to respond to Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.

Lt. Mike Biaggini, who has been involved in peer court and the safety intervention team, said he doesn’t believe the peer court will see an increase in cases with a police officer on campus.

“I don’t believe that just the officer’s presence will affect peer court, because the school resource officer is still going to work with school officials. I don’t see a drastic change in the way matters are handled at the school, just that (the) resource will be available a whole lot more,” Biaggini said.

He said the officer will be a connection between the students and the DCSO.

“I think it will be very positive because now they will have someone they will get used to, a real good liaison with our department and our profession. Certainly our hope is the kids, just seeing an officer there all the time, will feel a whole lot more comfortable conversing with him about their problems and things going on on campus now,” Biaggini said.

Pierini gave credit to his staff, who wrote the grants.

“It’s something we’ve been very successful at. We’re fortunate to have the talent in our department to write and receive grants. Not everybody’s funded, so we’ve been very fortunate,” Pierini said.

He said the school district has committed to providing matching funds and to continue the program when the federal money runs out in three years.

The grant provides $125,000 over three years and Pierini said an officer will make earn $45,000-$55,000 per year with benefits, based on experience. Starting salary is $31,000 plus benefits for an inexperienced officer.

“We will try to house the officer out of Douglas High School, but we are going to utilize the officer in different schools as needed. With the 1,400 students at Douglas, it will be nice to have an officer stationed there all the time. We do tie up officers there, and now we will have officers in the neighborhood instead. It’s not uncommon that we are called there once a day,” Pierini said.

School board member David Brady said the district is happy to support an officer on campus.

“I see it as a high priority. We went into this knowing there was only so many years of funding,” Brady said. “I think it will be well received by the students and parents and create a safer learning environment for the kids. The sheriff’s office has always had a great working relationship with the high school, and this will add one more opportunity to continue that relationship. I’m thrilled about it.”