Cocalico Regional Leaders endorse School Resource Officer

By on October 31, 2018

Cocalico School District won a two-year Safe Schools grant to implement a School Resource Officer (SRO) program. The grant awards the district $60,000 for school year 2018-2019 and $30,000 for 2019-2020.

Regional leaders from Adamstown, Denver, East Cocalico and West Cocalico Townships agreed at their Oct. 23 quarterly leaders meeting in East Cocalico that the program is a good one, and one most other county school districts successfully have in place.

“I was surprised at the numbers supplied by East Cocalico Police Chief, Darrick Keppley,” said Dr. Nathan Van Deusen, assistant superintendent at Cocalico School District. “Over the last few years, the numbers have gone up exponentially. Most arrests are for drugs.”

Van Deusen said Cocalico has invested heavily in recent years to help students with social-emotional dynamics they’re experiencing. More guidance services and a psychologist were added to the staff with the help of previous Safe School grants.

Ephrata Police Lt. Tom Shumaker said a school resource officer (SRO) brings positive changes to school climate. Situations can be diffused before they’re allegedly supposed to happen. “We don’t have to invent the wheel here because there’s lots of expertise available into which to tap.”

Indeed, Chief Keppley gave much credit to time invested by Sergeant Chris Progin. He visited and interviewed several local SRO’s. According to the chief, each SRO said every day is different. What is common is that when large groups of students are in transit, like at the beginning or end of the day, the SRO is present and knows for what signs to be alert.

Several Cocalico leaders questioned what the officer would be doing over the summer. Lt. Shumaker said it isn’t feasible to use the SRO as a patrol officer over the summer. One reason is during the school year the SRO most likely won’t be taking vacation. Vacation time will occur over the summer.

School starts around mid-August. Staff development, which ideally would involve the SRO, is done prior to school opening and after the last day of school. There’s not much down time over the summer. It’s also anticipated the SRO will be present at evening events, such as football and basketball games.

The SRO proposal for Cocalico School District calls for the school to fund half and the municipalities to fund half of the projected total cost of $151,000. This includes all benefits.

In discussing costs, Adamstown and West Cocalico questioned anticipated costs for items such as health benefits, workman’s compensation and pension. Leaders stressed they supported the SRO program. However, the perceived high costs entailed were clearly not acceptable to them.

To some meeting attendees, the discussion was deja vu’. These costs were ones which derailed discussions about forming a regional police force three and a half years ago.

Following regionalization talks, Denver continued contracting police coverage from East Cocalico Police. Adamstown and West Cocalico ceased contracting from East Cocalico and contracted with Ephrata Borough Police. The respective five year contracts for Denver, Adamstown and West Cocalico all end Dec. 31, 2020.

Several municipal leaders thought the school district should pick up more than half of the cost, as a few other local districts do with their SRO.

Clearly more decisions need to be made in the near future. Van Deusen and Chief Keppley said it was the intent to have the SRO in the district by January 2019. Keppley said the department has not selected which officer on the force will be the SRO.

Keppley said no new officer will be hired immediately to replace one serving as SRO.

“Right now a regular patrol officer responds to all school calls. With an SRO in place, we’ll keep track of calls to see what’s happening.”

The next Cocalico regional leader’s meeting is Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at Adamstown Borough.

Alice Hummer is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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