No School Resource Officer in Cocalico

By on December 7, 2016

School directors nix idea supported by Denver borough

There won’t be a school resource officer walking the halls of Cocalico schools anytime soon.

School board members have shown little interest in an offer from Denver Borough to split the cost of a police officer who would monitor the district’s five schools in addition to fulfilling other community responsibilities.

Several Denver officials broached the idea with the board at a meeting in November, but Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser, school administrators, and several board members said they opposed the idea of bringing an armed officer to school because it would change the culture in Cocalico.

“We’re not saying we don’t value the police presence,” Musser said recently. “We certainly do, especially in an emergency. It’s just to have someone on staff doesn’t necessarily seem warranted with the number of incidents we have.”

In an interview this week, Hession said the borough has discussed the possibility of hiring a school resource officer in the past. Residents gave new life to the idea during a public meeting on drug addiction, after which several council members said they were interested in exploring the option again.

“That was a recurring theme: Why don’t we have a better presence?” Hession said. “I think the community is just sensing, ‘Hey, there are some big things we’re up against here’.”

During a special school board meeting on Nov. 7, Hession and new East Cocalico Police Chief Terry Arment described what extra training a school resource officer would receive, his possible schedule and duties.

Though the meeting was advertised as required, no advance agendas were issued to the media as is routine with monthly meetings. Musser had previously said the board would only meet to accept an annual audit report. She said discussion about the officer was a last-minute addition.

Only one member of the public attended.

During the meeting, Hession outlined how to pay for a school resource officer, who could be shifted from a regular rotation within the East Cocalico department to work with the school district calendar. Hession estimated an annual cost of $90,000 to $100,000, $60,000 of which could be covered by a grant during year one.

Hession said the borough would also be amenable to splitting costs long-term, a model already used in nearby communities like Lititz and the Warwick School District.

The police department once billed the borough based on the number calls; Hession said that those fees were renegotiated several years ago. A new, four-year contract does not charge the borough more to respond to school calls (not all fall within Denver’s boundaries).

At one point, Hession said, police responded to a high of 59 calls on school district property during a single school year. That number has fallen to the upper 20s or low 30s more recently.

Musser, however, noted that the district only had 12 reportable incidents during the school day during 2015-16 school year. Those would include assaults or drug episodes. Even with the addition of a school resource officer, after-hours problems would need to be handled by another member of the police department.

In a phone interview, Denver Mayor Rodney Redcay said the district was doing a good job handling security, addressing bullying and mentoring students. But he sees an officer as an additional set of eyes.

“Across the county, there are more schools accepting SROs. I believe parents would feel safer knowing that there’s an officer in the building,” he said. “There is so much more an SRO can do besides just police.”

Hession said building a relationship between students and an officer would benefit the entire community because children would feel more comfortable approaching an officer if they need help or witness something troubling.

But school officials bristled at the idea, with board member Randall Renninger equating an SRO with a security guard roaming the halls.

According to meeting minutes, the assistant to the superintendent for secondary education said being greeted by someone with a gun would change how people feel when they enter a Cocalico building. The assistant superintendent elementary education questioned what the SRO would do at the district’s three elementary schools.

Though the board said it would further review information, Redcay no longer thinks hiring a full-time officer is a viable option.

“After our meeting with the school district and understanding their views, I don’t see how it would be welcomed by the schools,” he said.

The issue could resurface during a Jan. 24 regional leaders meeting on drugs that will be held in the high school cafeteria at 7 p.m. Details have not been announced, but the meeting is open to the public.

 

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