Police-school plan on Champaign City Council agenda

Police-school plan on Champaign City Council agenda

CHAMPAIGN – A proposal to have Champaign police designate six officers who would work out of the Champaign middle schools and high schools will be discussed Tuesday by the Champaign City Council.

The city council meets in study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

Due to escalating violence in and near the schools – including fights between students and student assaults against teachers – the school district asked for help this fall from the Champaign Police Department. Of particular concern was a Nov. 4 melee that slightly injured several faculty and staff members and ended in five arrests.

In another incident, a 15-year-old Champaign Centennial male student was arrested Thursday afternoon on a juvenile charge of aggravated battery after police reports said he pushed and shoved a school dean while trying to get at another student.

At the request of the school district, the police department on Nov. 14 began overtime security details at Central and Centennial, as well as the Columbia Center Alternative Program, scene of another incident late last year. Those details will continue through the rest of the school year, with the school district footing the bill.

Police Lt. Joseph Gallo said that while the police presence has reduced calls to police and had a calming effect on disruptive behavior, putting school resource officers in place would be even better.

"With the security detail, you may get a different officer every day," Gallo said. "These officers don't have the specialized training a school resource officer would have, and they wouldn't build up the same relationships with the administration and with the students, like you see with neighborhood or community policing."

Under the tentative plan, the city would convert its three community outreach police officers, who work out of the police station but work extensively with middle and elementary schools, into school resource officers. The plan also calls for hiring three additional school resource officers. The school district would be asked to pay 75 percent to 100 percent of the cost, which would be roughly $305,000 per year, including squad cars, training and equipment.

The officers would begin work with the start of the 2006-07 school year.

Gallo said the biggest advantage would be "the positive relationship the officer will be able to build with the students." Officers also could work with the administration and teachers to identify problems, prevent or minimize dangerous situations and work toward solutions, he said.

The officers would also be available for conferences with students, parents and faculty to assist them with problems involving law enforcement or crime prevention.

The officers would be familiar with community agencies and could refer youths and their families to mental health and drug treatment facilities.

The city council Tuesday will decide whether to direct city staff to work with the school district to develop a proposal for a school resource officer program.