Fourth school officer urged for Danville
Since the Danville school district placed school resource officers at the high school and two middle schools, the number of expulsions and disturbances at those schools has decreased, according to the city's public safety director.
Now Director Larry Thomason is recommending that the school board consider adding a fourth officer to serve the high school, the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy and possibly even some elementary schools.
"I believe this is one of the best tools we have in law enforcement for the schools and the community," Thomason told board members at a special meeting on Monday.
School board members, who were generally receptive to the idea, plan to consider a proposal at their next regular meeting on July 16. If approved, the additional officer could report to the school beat starting next year.
The district first placed a school resource officer at the high school in 2003. It added one at North Ridge Middle School and another at South View Middle School in 2011.
Under a joint agreement, the district pays for the officers' salaries and benefits during the nine-month school year, and the city covers those costs the other three months. Superintendent Mark Denman said that works about to about $190,000, or roughly an average of $65,000 a year an officer, for the district.
The district pays for the expense out of its tort fund. While the fund is expected to have about $700,000 on June 30, the end of the fiscal year, Denman said the district, which is expected to have another deficit budget next year, must be careful to not spend down the funds or else it will have to consider raising the tax rate or borrow money from the education fund to cover expenses.
While Thomason said he understands the financial concerns, he said he believes the move will benefit the entire community.
The officers, who are liaisons between the police and school officials, monitor school grounds, assist staff with safety and security decisions, meet regularly with staff to identify individuals and conditions of concern. They also investigate cases originating in their schools and involving students going to and from school.
But Thomason added, their main function is to interact with young people as they walk the hallways and lunchrooms, talk to students and get to know them and build personal relationships.
All of that allows young people to see the police in a positive light and see that their role is to help people, he said, adding that teaches respect, trust and other values. For some, he added, their only contact with police has been when someone has gotten in trouble or is being arrested.
"They are informal counselors and mentors," Thomason said. "It gives (students) another person to talk to."
Denman, Danville High's principal when it first got an officer, said the program has worked well. Board members agreed, saying they not only like the program, but thought the veteran officers — Doug Weaver at the high school, Amy Wasson at North Ridge and Chad Turner at South View — do an excellent job.
And while they saw the benefit of having the fourth officer float between the high school and Bailey Academy, the district's alternative school, they said they'd also like the officer to have some kind of presence at the elementary schools.
Thomason said the two officers at the middle schools initially visited their buildings' feeder elementaries to introduce themselves — and the concept — to fifth-graders. However, that waned as their duties at their schools expanded.
If the board approves adding an officer, Thomason said it would be up to administrators to decide where that person would work. However, he advised them to not "spread him so thin he's not effective."