CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district will hire temporary officers from a private security firm to patrol its middle and high schools for the first quarter of the fall term.
The school board on Monday night approved $77,000 of emergency funds to bring aboard five unarmed safety resource officers from AGB Investigative Services, a privately held Chicago security company with more than 1,500 full-time and part-time employees.
Since 2006, Unit 4 has utilized Champaign Police Department-provided school resource officers in its five middle and high schools.
But last month, the city officially informed the school district that the police department's ongoing staffing shortage meant it wouldn’t be able to supply officers for schools, forcing the program to be suspended for the upcoming school year.
“We met with CPD a couple months ago, and we could see the handwriting on the wall with things happening in community, and the budgets and the lack of personnel,” new Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer said at Monday’s school board meeting. “We took an extremely proactive approach to address some concerns coming toward us.”
The newly hired officers will work for 45 days while the district solicits bids to replace the school-resource-officer program.
Normally, the district would have to put out a public bid for any expenditures of this nature above $25,000, but city circumstances made an interim option necessary, said Linda Matkowski, the district's chief financial officer.
“Given the timing of the news from the city and the start of our school year, it was imperative that we accelerate the process,” she said.
The security officers won’t wear full uniforms, nor will they be able to arrest and detain students.
Instead, they’ll patrol the school grounds, halls and parking lots at random intervals, informing police of any suspicious or potentially harmful activity.
The AGB officers will also enforce the no-firearm policy at each school, use metal-detector wands on students and spectators periodically at school events and serve as first responders for in-school emergencies.
The new officers will work directly with school administrators and must participate in district training.
Individual schools will be able to give input on which officers they’d prefer in the school.
AGB, founded in 2001, specializes in “armed and unarmed security services, background investigations and fingerprinting services.”
The company claims that more than 95 percent of its employees are ethnic minorities.
AGB will be able to submit its own bid to become the longer-term security option for the school system, with its performance in the first quarter taken into consideration.
This doesn’t mean the district will end its relationship with Champaign police: Officers will still prioritize attendance at Friday night football games, bringing in officers from Urbana, the University of Illinois and Parkland College as needed, in addition to the AGB hires.
“The (new officers) will have the community presence in our schools, getting to know our kids, getting to know our teachers,” said Valarian Couch, the district's director of information systems and network security. “We will still have a tremendous relationship with CPD. If we need someone to call firsthand, they will show up.”
As will the AGB hires, Boozer said. Unlike a city hire, the new safety-resource officers will be wholly part of the district.
“They work for us, we don’t have to worry about them being called off because there’s another emergency in the community they had to deal with,” Boozer said. “They’re ours.”