Schools, sheriff commit to officer on campus
Douglas County schools and the sheriff’s office added one more promise to their commitment to keep schools safe Thursday by bringing the issue of a school resource officer before the county commission.
The board unanimously OK’d the sheriff’s office application for half of the money that would pay for a full-time officer in the schools. Sheriff Ron Pierini explained that the grant hasn’t been written yet, but he wanted to be able to send it off to the U.S. Department of Justice as soon as it is accepting applications.
“What we’ve been hearing is it will be based on need, but it will also be based on a first-come, first-serve basis. I felt it was important to get the application approved by the commission now because it takes a couple of weeks to get on the agenda,” Pierini said.
The Department of Justice grant, if approved, will pay half the cost of one officer’s salary and benefits – between $22,000-$25,000 – and will be renewed for three years.
Conditions of the grant are that the funds are matched by the community and the community guarantees it will continue the program at the end of three years.
Superintendent Pendery Clark said the school district will provide the matching funds and has “every intention” of paying the full $44,000-$50,000 at the end of the grant. Clark said matching funds next year are coming out of an existing fund for special education programs.
Clark was cautious, however.
“Nobody knows three years in the future. If our budget situation gets worse, given what the Legislature may or may not do, we could tell the feds we couldn’t make that commitment or ask for help from the county,” she said.
The sheriff said the officer will probably be chosen from within the ranks, and has already had many people volunteer for the job. The deputy will be based five days a week at Douglas High School, but will be available to all the schools in the district. Pierini said if the grant is approved, he wants to have the officer in the schools this fall.
He promised to pay for training, for equipment and to supervise the deputy. Pierini said the placement of the officer will not affect any of the school safety programs put in place by the Community Action Team, which includes Peer Court (and its supervisor, Deputy Greg Shields), and the school intervention team, which is made up of four deputies. The team is headed by Deputy Phil Lesquereux and includes Deputy Dan Coverley, Deputy Rick Koontz and Deputy Teresa Duffy, who is assigned to Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.
“It absorbs a lot of time by going to the schools and takes away from being in the community. This will give an added response and now those officers who have a lot of other duties can do their primary functions,” Pierini said.
The purpose of a school resource officer is to defuse violent situations before they start, but Pierini acknowledged that one officer won’t be able to prevent all incidents.
“Nothing is fool-proof. But it will minimize the possibility of some violent acts,” Pierini said.
Clark also promised the schools would not put an end to those programs or to the security guard positions already at Douglas High School.
“I think we’ve seen a real advantage to having uniformed officers on site. They are getting to know the kids and we’ve seen a huge difference in fights. We haven’t had one expulsion this year,” Clark said. “We need to step up to the plate and do what we can to ensure the continued safety of our kids.”
Douglas High School Principal Bev Jeans said she is excited by the prospect.
“I think this is a safe campus, but this is just another wonderful piece and it is just another example of the sheriff’s office working with us,” Jeans said. “When the officers are on campus, the kids talk to them all the time, and that’s the point of the school resource officer, to form that connection with the students and have open communication.”