Thursday, July 26, 2007

Negotiations underway

Negotiations are underway between the City of Lincoln and the Lincoln Public Schools concerning the funding of the ten Lincoln police officers who serve as school resource officers. These officers essentially are assigned to a beat consisting of one or more schools. Each of the six high schools has a police officer, while the ten middle schools are divided among four additional officers.

Since school resource officers were first assigned to high schools in 1994, the funding formula has varied from time to time. Originally, Lincoln Public Schools paid 2/3 of the cost of the officers' salary, benefits, and direct costs. This basic arrangement continued through the 2002-2003 school year, when LPS paid the City of Lincoln $293,512 for the nine school resource officers assigned that year. In the spring of 2003, the Superintendent of Schools at the time, Dr. Phil Schoo, notified me in writing that LPS could no longer fund it's portion of the school resource officers, due to budget difficulty. The contract had a 90 day termination clause, and he was making the deadline before the upcoming 2003-2004 school year. That year, the City elected to continue to provide SROs, in hopes that LPS would be able to once again pick up a portion of the funding when their budget picture was brighter.

Within a year the schools were once again contributing to the funding, but at a significantly reduced level. In the current year, LPS pays $30,000 each for the services of four of the ten school resource officers. The other six are paid for 100% by the City of Lincoln. Thus, LPS funding for school resource officers dropped from $293,512 for nine officers in 2002-2003, to $120,000 for ten officers in 2006-2007. The budget shoe is now on the other foot, and the current negotiations are the result of the City of Lincoln's budget shortfall. I am hopeful that we can find the funds needed to keep school resource officers on the job.

From the City of Lincoln's perspective, we would like to have more significant financial participation in this program from the school district. Of your property tax dollar, about 65% goes to the Lincoln Public Schools, whereas the City's portion is 14%. Despite the fact that LPS is the big dog on the property tax block, all of the barking is directed at the City of Lincoln. The Board of Education essentially gets a pass from the public budget critics, while the City shoulders the blame for property taxes.

For taxpayers, whether the money comes from the right pocket or the left pocket doesn't much matter: the pockets are both on your pants. The real issue is whether citizens support the need for school resource officers. I sense that the support is fairly strong, but our elected school board, city council, and Mayor would be the better judges of that. Personally, I think school resource officers in high schools are vital. In middle schools, I think police officers are valuable. My only concern with middle schools is that the need for law enforcement services is less not quite as great as in high schools, and the police resource is applied rather thinly. Spreading four officers over ten middle schools is not the optimal deployment of this scarce resource.

I think most people in Lincoln would be quite surprised to learn what the police do in high schools and middle schools. I reported earlier this year about some of the police calls at elementary schools. High schools and middle schools have greater volume. During the 2006-2007 school year, Lincoln police officers handled 1,893 incidents at middle schools and high schools between 7:30 AM and 4:00 PM on weekdays. Among these were:

174 vandalisms
8 arrest warrants
50 traffic accidents
32 trespassings
19 child abuses
38 suspicious persons
33 sex offenses
25 mental health investigations
505 larceny thefts
7 bomb threats
242 disturbances
296 assaults
9 weapons offenses

Not all of these events happened at schools--some were merely reported there--but our officers completed 1,503 incident reports for the subset of these events that actually occurred at school. To be sure, the presence of officers in the schools itself effects these data: if an officer were not assigned to the school, some of these incidents would not have been reported at all, and others would have been reported from a different location. When an officer is visible, available, and approachable, reporting is more likely. Nonetheless, our secondary schools are busy places from a police perspective. Maybe that's why LPS put another $1.5 million in their budget for security this year.

That makes perfect sense, when you think about it. We're talking about more than 32,000 students in Lincoln Public Schools. That 10,000 more than the University of Nebraska, which maintains its own police force of about 30 officers plus support staff. Each of our public high schools, if it were a city, would be larger than all but a few of the County seats in our State.

14 comments:

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:56 AM-

Thanks for the tip. I rejected your comment, for obvious reasons. I'd be happy to explain this, but you'll have to talk to either me or Clair Lindquist about it. Why in the world do you need to be anonymous? You've done everyone a favor by pointing it out.

Randy Burnham said...

As a past member of the Lincoln Police Department I wanted to share some first hand insight regarding the high value of maintaining the school resource officer program.

Statistics support the fact that many of the property crimes are committed by the high school age group. These crimes include vandalism, burglary and larceny. These may not be the headliner type crimes but, are the crimes that we are all most susceptible too.

To be able to solve these type of crimes it is important to have a good relationship with the that age group.

As an investigating officer there were several occasions that I relied on the local resource officer to assist in obtaining information on the persons committing these acts to lead to the arrest of those responsible. As a school resource officer, myself in the late 90's, I learned firsthand what kind of relationships you can build with the age group to gain their trust which in turn leads to valuable experience. The only way to gain this type of rapport is to have constant contact with that group which the resource officer program lends itself to.

It is important to understand that the resource office is not a "hall monitor" or responsible for enforcing "school rules". They are a full functioning police officer operating to ensure the public safety of the community. To not keep them in the High Schools and Middle Schools would be a step backward for keeping our community a safer place to live.

Atticus said...

I agree that high school SRO's are vital. Middle and elementary school SRO's...not so much. It seems that the administration of the middle schools use the SRO in situations that are not really necessary, such as mediations, lectures to students who have violated rules, etc. If the SRO were not there, the school would more than likely not call LPD to send an officer, and would simply handle it themselves.They have become somewhat dependent on LPD in that manner. In a perfect world we would have officers assigned to every school in Lincoln in order to expose kids to the police in a positive atmosphere. This may help prevent problems with kids as they grow to adulthood. A very good method of crime prevention and P.R. However, when we are facing understaffing and budget cuts, something has to give. In prioritizing the need for police service, I'm afraid that middle schools and elementary schools fall well short of the bar. I also understand that there are legitimate calls for service at the schools. These calls would require a street officer if there were no assigned SRO, and I know that said street officer would gripe about being sent to the school. Tough bounce. I'd rather be sent to one or two calls a week at the school and add an officer to my squad to help out with the hundreds of other calls that come in, than get hammered with those calls while the SRO is mediating a dispute between two 14 year olds.

Anonymous said...

I strongly encourage you to submit "Negotiations Underway" to the Lincoln Journal-Star as a guest editorial. More people need to see it.

I'd bet that there is enough redundant administrative fat in the gigantic Lincoln Public Schools budget to completely fund 14 Resource Officers, one for each high school and one for each middle school. Psychologists. Grief counselors. Assistant this and assistant that. All that stuff we used to do better without!

Be a politician for a minute, and ask the parents if they'd feel that their kids were safer with a full-time RSO at the schools, or just a part-time RSO. As them if they think that LPS is shirking their educational responsibility by refusing to pay for keeping their kids safe, because senior School Administrators need to redecorate their offices on a regular basis. If LPD can provide the trained RSOs, then LPS can pay for 100% of the cost for those RSOs, and I mean all 14 of them. You probably have a good idea about grade schools and RSO staffing.

An RSO is a wonderful asset to a school, for many reasons. They give kids a chance to interact with a Police Officer in a pleasant, casual-contact sort of way, rather than "License and registration please. Sir, do you know why I stopped you?" being the first time they rub elbows with LPD.

A couple of decades back, we had a part-time RSO in my parochial grade school (an uneventful beat for an RSO), and we thought that Ofc. Stacey was incredibly cool. He gave us a very positive image of the Police in general, and you can't buy that kind of "hearts and minds" influence.

Renters almost never have any idea how their landlord's property taxes are split up, they just know when the rent goes up. Unfortunately, a disturbing number of homeowners have no idea how LPS eats the lion's share of that tax bill. If taxpayer ignorance was bliss, then a lot of folks would be happier than a car-load of circus clowns.

Tom Casady said...

Note in the previous comment by anonymous 9:47 the specific mention of an SRO who impacted this person's view of the police. That was Don Stacy, who's been gone for 30 years. This would be a clue that the comment comes from someone in their early-to-mid 40's, because in the 1970's the SROs worked in elementary schools.

I hear this regularly: people in their 40's will ask me about Don, Harry Meagher, Joe Buda, Brad Schmidt, or some other long-gone officer who served as an SRO. Quite a long term impact was made by the officers that rubbed elbows with 8 year olds in 1975.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, my spell-checker globally booted all my SROs for RSOs. Bob Stigwood's old label. Anyway, that's right, Ofc. Stacy made a positive impression that has endured for decades. I was even one of the "hoody" kids (or what passed for one back then) but we liked that guy anyway.

Your first impresson of anything new, be it good or bad, often sears itself into your psyche when you're a kid. This is why SROs are such a brilliant deployment of scarce personnel, because they can help shape future socialization.

Frankly, it's somewhat disheartening that there are no longer SROs in the elementary schools, but that's probably a budget thing. In these times, social interaction aside, you'd think the schools would at least be able to see the possible safety benefit of having an armed LPD officer right there on site all the time, but what do I know.

Several of the friends that I made as I progressed through my school years did become LEOs after they were out of high school or college. LPD, LCS, etc. Some joined the military and became an MP, some had another MOS and became an LEO after their discharge and did so when putting down roots in another state.

Interestingly, when you ask them what influenced them toward law enforcement as a career, those from Lincoln usually mention a grade school SRO as one of the first things.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the comment made by ‘atticus’. Last fall my 14 year old son was jumped and beaten unconscious in the hallway of a LPS MIDDLE school during the class changing time. The boy who did this to my son was, I assume, 14 years old too but this young man was the size of my 23 year old. Unfortunately, there is more going on these days with that age group than arguing over notebooks. The attorney I contacted for advise (not to sue, just advise) was not surprised and told me he had dealt with this type of assault at the middle school level (especially at this specific middle school) many, many times.

atticus said...

I believe I used the term 'dispute' rather than 'assault'. What you describe would clearly be a situation when an officer needs to be involved. And yes, as I mentioned, there are LEGITIMATE police calls in the middle schools. However not all require police intervention and many are simply mediations that could easily be handled by school staff and PARENTS! We have incidents at businesses, malls, convenience stores, you name it, but it is not feasible to post an officer at all of those locations either. Of course it would be great if LPD had the manpower to be at every school every day. But we simply do not have that kind of manpower and things need to be prioritized.

Anonymous said...

Take it easy anonymous 4:32 7-27. No one has said the the LPD wont be responding to calls for service at the middle schools. As stated by the Chief, the middle school SRO'S have multiple school's to patrol unlike the High School SRO's who get 1 school to roam around in. So the odds are that if something needing a police response happens in a middle school, the SRO will have to respond from a different school in their mix of schools and then take care of business just like a regular patrol office would and in some cases the patrol officer may get there faster. There is no doubt the cops in the schools is a good thing, however having said that take a look how short the LPD is on its staffing for street officers. LPD is already the smallest PD in the state per capita when it is fully staffed. Take it from me LPD is no where close to being fully staffed right now with EVERY Police team down offciers who would be out there on patrol responding to calls for service and keeping our city safe. Staffing of the middle schools with cops should come to an end so that those officers can contribute to the enitre population not just those in the school. Lincoln does not have the number of cops needed to staff all the schools right now. Cops need to be in a cruiser on the streets not sitting in a Junior High School.

Anonymous said...

Let me also add my voice to the impact that Officer Stacey made to my elementary school time.

One thing I find curiously lacking in your comments Chief are the comparisons to what other departments Lincoln's size are doing and who is paying for it. A lot of other policy decisions you make are defended with these comparisons - it would be nice to see one cited here.

Anonymous said...

We can all agree that SRO's can foster better relationships with the students they work around - but let's not forget the effect they have on parents.

In most cases, my interaction with the LPD will be limited to contact I may have as a result of a traffic accident, speeding ticket or theft report. I may thank an officer for working traffic on a football Saturday, or nod at one at Dillards (do they still do off duty there) but my best chance for meaningful interaction may well be when I see them at my daughter's school.

I would also suspect that there is a certain percentage of intelligence that an SRO gathers from students etc - and maybe even crimes cleared as a result of being on campus and building relationships with students.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:38

On the number of SROs in relationship to department size, we are on the low side, in comparison to the Benchmark City Chiefs participants (see an earlier blog about this group.) 3.2% of our officers are SROs--10 of 317 authorized. The group of 20 cities averaged 4.8%. Of the cities closest to our size, Plano has 23 SROs among its 351 officers, Overland Park has 14 of 246, Garland has 25 of 327, Irving 21 of 333.

SROs are almost always paid for jointly by the City and the school district.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader....first time blogger. I had to pipe in on this one.

There are many hard working SRO's and then there are the SRO's that have been hiding behind their SRO status for years. They clock in, eat their bagel and clock out. This occurs day after day. They fly under the radar while they anticipate their upcoming weekend. They know who they are. Certain SRO's need to be monitored more closely than others. These cake eaters are the ones that need to hit the street and jump calls. Instead they sit back, well aware that their teammates are getting pounded, and remain behind their protective/air conditioned walls of their school.

-js- said...

One point to make:

While I don't see anyone disputing that high school SROs are very much needed, I sense some trepidation when it comes to the middle schools.

In most circles that deal with terrorism post 9/11, it is a prevailing opinion that middle schools, NOT high schools, are the more desirable target for extremists. Middle schoolers are old enough to appreciate the predicament they are in but not quite big enough to mount a successful resistance.

Don't believe violence could erupt at a middle school? Then google "school shooting" and sift through the carnage. Its not just high schools folks.

While I am ABSOLUTELY for more officers on the street, I think that cutting officers from the middle schools altogether would be a mistake--just not one that we may realize immediately.

If there are any LPS administrators reading out there, I would strongly suggest looking forward to the future. I think that ADDING SROs so that one is staffed in each high school AND middle school would be a lofty goal. I realize that this may sound crazy but really, what are our kids worth?