CHAMPAIGN – After a lengthy discussion Monday night on putting full-time police officers in the middle and high schools, the Champaign school board did not vote on the issue.
And the superintendent said he won't bring the idea back to the board again.
A number of community members, most of them black, voiced their objections to the district's proposal for school resource officers to reduce crime in the schools. Their concerns included the amount of training the officers would receive, particularly in dealing with minority students; the possibility of racial profiling of students; and an increase in criminal charges against students.
Some questioned whether the proposal was for the safety of school staff more than of students. Others said the schools need more social workers and counselors rather than police officers. And many said the public had not had sufficient input on the matter.
But one of the main objections was that the officers would be armed.
"What is an armed officer going to bring that an unarmed officer is not?" asked the Rev. Deborah Owen of McKinley Foundation. "What is it we want to achieve with a gun?"
Several people noted the district has had armed officers in the schools for 15 years, in the form of the police who conduct the DARE program and other safety programs. But they are not full-time officers assigned to the schools, nor are they responsible for preventing disruptive behavior in the schools.
Board member Scott Anderson noted the district has had off-duty, armed officers in the high schools since last November.
"There have been no reports of kids' heads being banged up and down the hallways, no reports of weapons being grabbed. Kids are not being hauled downtown right and left," he said.
Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said the school resource officers would have special training on dealing with juveniles. He said their main focus would be to prevent problems and keep kids out of the justice system.
"They would get to know the students and staff, and try to keep small problems small. They would mediate problems between students," Daniels said.
Assistant Superintendent Ecomet Burley said the school resource officers are one part of the district's efforts to improve safety.
"We are not looking to it as the answer," he said, adding the district is also revising its student code of conduct, putting a behavior intervention program in the high schools, looking at alternatives to suspensions and adding hallway monitors.
Board member Arlene Blank said she wanted to hear about the other safety initiatives along with the school resource officer proposal before making a decision. She and others also raised concerns about the cost of the officers – about $643,500 over three years – and whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.
"I'd much rather see our money as a district spent on social workers or people who can do some therapy with our troubled children," said board member Nathaniel Banks. "But if we have fires to put out first, folks, we've got to put fires out."
But he and several board members wanted to table the measure to get more information and community input.
"It would be extremely foolish for us to vote," said board member Reginald Alston. "Obviously there is strong opposition to this program."
Anderson said he didn't want to see the board split its vote on the issue along racial lines, as it appeared might happen.
But Superintendent Arthur Culver declared the proposal dead. He said the district administration would not bring a safety program back to the board that included school resource officers.
"I've heard from the city very clearly and strongly they are not going to put officers in the schools without guns," he said. "We're not going to recommend school resource officers because they'll have guns, and that's a huge issue in this community. We're not coming back to the table with school resource officers. It's not something this community can embrace and want."