Fayetteville will soon have a new school resource officer and may add more as early as next year.
City Council voted 8-0 on Tuesday to approve a proposal to add a new officer, while also pledging to add two new officers each year until each school has a full-time officer on duty each day. of school.
The measure was sponsored by council member Holly Hertzberg who said she wanted to keep schools safe, but also because the local school district should follow recent state recommendations suggesting that all schools should have at least least one resource officer.
The city currently has six school resource officers assigned to the Fayetteville Public Schools District, which operates 15 campuses and will open a new middle school west of Fayetteville next year.
Hertzberg’s plan will add a new officer this year. The addition of two new agents per year would begin in 2023.
The city shares the cost of paying school resource officers with the district. Adding a new officer this year will cost $40,000. The district will reimburse the city for $23,400 of the officer’s salary and the city will pay the remaining $16,600.
The board last considered adding new SROs in 2020 when it twice rejected a federal grant that would have helped hire two new officers.
At the August 4, 2020 meeting, the council was split 4-4 in the vote and Mayor Lioneld Jordan broke the tie to accept the grant, but council member Sarah Marsh overturned her vote, causing the vote to fail. resolution 3-5. Others joining Marsh include Sonia Harvey, Matthew Petty, Sloan Scroggin and Kyle Smith. Supporters were Mark Kinion, Sarah Bunch and Teresa Turk.
Turk brought the discussion back to the board on August 18, 2020 in what would be a heated nine-hour debate.
Some who spoke out were people of color who told stories of traumatic experiences they had with ORS and described interactions they had with officers who they said targeted them, trapped and had made them uncomfortable or unwelcome in schools where the student body was predominantly white.
Several school resource officers have come out in favor of the proposal and described the relationships they have formed with struggling students and children who come to them with problems they say they don’t think to be able to trust someone else.
At the time, Councilor Harvey said she was most affected by listening to those who spoke about their personal negative experiences. She said the city should put its SRO program on hold to allow more time to think about the idea. Turk said the second discussion was worth it, but ultimately voted with the majority in a 7-1 decision to table the proposal indefinitely. Kinion was the only board member to vote against the filing.
Police Chief Mike Reynolds presented a report containing data on citations and arrests from recent years.
Last school year, there were three arrests by SROs and 18 citations issued, the data shows. Of these, 62% were initiated by school officials, including 33% by an officer who witnessed a fight or other criminal act inside the school. Reynolds said 5% of the incidents were triggered after a complaint from a parent, student or other witness.
The data shows that the 21 incidents that occurred in the last school year have decreased in recent years. There were 50 incidents in 2019-20 and 68 in 2018-19. Data for 2020-21 has been omitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also shows the race of those cited or arrested last year. Among the incidents, nine students were black, eight were white, two were Hispanic, and two were listed as “other.”
Reynolds then showed body camera footage of Fayetteville officers responding to a shooting incident near Dickson Street in which they quickly located and apprehended a suspect without incident. It also showed footage of officers responding to the murder of Officer Stephen Carr.
“As you can see they’re running towards the shots,” Reynolds said. “They are not hiding. They are brave and their actions save lives, and they are ready to protect the students and teachers of the city’s school system.
Cheryl May, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Arkansas, said ORS training is extremely important. She said the state has made great strides in recent years to ensure Arkansas officers are properly prepared to work with students.
“The focus is not on getting kids in trouble, the focus is on helping them out,” May said.
Megan Duncan, assistant superintendent of Fayetteville Public Schools, agreed and said the district has recently invested heavily in counselors, student support specialists and social workers to work alongside ORS.
School district superintendent Dr. John L. Colbert said ORS is only one part of the district’s overall approach to keeping students safe, but it’s an important part of the plan. He said the Fayetteville Police Department is different from some cities where officers are often criticized for their behavior, especially toward minorities. Fayetteville officers, he said, have a reputation for being collaborative and supportive of all residents.
“I know what we stand for here,” Colbert said. “We are different and we are special.”
Council member Sloan Scroggin suggested amending the resolution to include an optional $3,000 stipend that officers can use if they wish to obtain social work certificates or other council-related courses that might be useful on the job. . Scroggin’s amendment was approved 8-0.
During public comments, 16 people spoke in favor of the proposal and nine spoke against it.
Those opposed questioned the effectiveness of officers in schools and said other options should be considered such as reducing class sizes or adding more staff such as counselors or aides. teachers.
Representatives of the local nonprofit Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said adding armed police to schools was not the solution. Some data shared from a Brown University Annenberg Institute study that estimated the impacts of ORS placement from 2014 to 2018. The study found that while ORS is effective in reducing some forms of violence in schools, they don’t prevent school shootings or guns. related incidents.
Others object to cited studies that show the presence of ORS sometimes leads to increased academic sanctions, citations, or arrests that have disproportionate effects on black students or people with disabilities.
Several of those in favor were teachers or school district staff who said they saw first-hand how the SRO interacts with Fayetteville students and asked the board to please help add more officers to the ranks. .
Council member D’Andre Jones said he listened to both sides, but was ultimately in favor of the proposal. He said politics seems to play a role in people’s opinions of ORS, but the council should put safety before politics, especially in a town where the police department has a good reputation.
“The responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of our students, teachers and administrators,” Jones said.
Kinion said it’s obvious the community is engaged in the issue and would like to see more ORS. He said it was unfortunate that the board did not approve a grant two years ago that would have funded two new SROs.
“But I think today we can offset that to some extent,” Kinion said.
Bunch said things have clearly changed since two years ago when so many people spoke out controversially against adding ORS to Fayetteville. She said more and more people are realizing that there is a lot more to an SRO than just being there as a police officer, and people seem to be more understanding when it comes to discuss ORS.
“It’s something that really enlightened me,” Bunch said.
Council member Mike Wiederkehr said the change over the past two years likely stems from the seeds that were planted in the first discussion. He said he also agreed with Bunch that Fayetteville’s ability to have a positive debate on tough topics is refreshing.
“That level of talk doesn’t happen everywhere,” Wiederkehr said.
Harvey said his concerns from two years ago have since been alleviated. She said the direction the district wants to move in has become clearer now that more time has passed and more people have weighed in.
“What has changed is not just how we frame the school safety conversation, but also the understanding that SROs are a key piece of the puzzle,” Harvey said.
Mayor Jordan said he was in favor of the proposal to add more ORS two years ago and is in favor today. He said the atmosphere in the council chamber had improved since the last debate.
“I feel much better about the conversations I overheard tonight than I overheard a few years ago,” Jordan said.
Jordan said his support for the proposal stemmed first from his confidence in the police department.
“I think we have the most outstanding, most progressive, best-trained police force and the best police chief anyone could ever have in this state,” Jordan said.
Trust in the school district is another key factor in his support, Jordan said.
“We have the best school system anyone could have in the state,” he said.
But more important, Jordan said, is the city’s responsibility to do everything possible to keep its students safe.
“We’re going to keep the kids safe,” Jordan said.
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