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Sheriff proposes school resource officer to district

By Judy Reed

If the Cedar Springs Public School district can swing the cost, the Kent County Sheriff Department may be able to help with security issues, as well as crime prevention, early intervention, and mentoring of the young lives on campus.

Sheriff Larry Stelma, Under Sheriff Michelle Young, Sgt. Jason Kelley, of the Cedar Springs Unit, and Lt. Jeff DeVries, of the Community Policing unit, were on hand at the Cedar Springs Board of Education meeting Monday evening, May 23, to talk about their School Resource Officer program and give the board a proposal for implementing it.

“We have 3,500 students and 350 staff members—4,000 people on campus everyday,” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent.

She noted that there were concerns from the accreditation team about security, and that they have concerns from staff, parents and community about safety issues on any given day. The school resource officer proposal was one step in addressing those issues.

“The atmosphere of a school can change faster than the weather,” remarked Sheriff Stelma, who is also a Cedar Springs resident. “We are passionate about our school resource officers. They are more than just someone walking the halls and parking lots. They are staff educational support. We are passionate about building relationships with kids, staff and parents.” He talked about early intervention into the lives of the bullied and disenfranchised. “We let the officer work with the youngster, the family, the school, before he explodes. Serious incidents happen in schools just like Cedar Springs. There may be problems at home, or maybe they are being bullied. Most are average schools, just like ours. At any given time during the day, there are more people on campus here than anywhere else in the community.”

“There are countless benefits to having someone being in charge of security at the school,” noted Sgt. Kelley. “They can query whether there is anything happening in the community that is going to bleed over into the district. They also have direct contact and access to the Sheriff, detectives, prosecutors, etc. They can be part of the solution to a problem rather than just responding to a scene and reporting it.”

Stelma said they are so passionate about bringing a School Resource Officer (SRO) in that they have arranged to cover one-third of the cost, if the school can cover the other two-thirds. Estimated cost to the district in the first year would be $76,219.

The cost would cover wages and benefits for 40 hours per week for deputy; all standard issued deputy equipment; Kent County Sheriff car, fully equipped, fueled and maintained; and all police training and supervision.

There are currently six schools involved in the program, each with their own officer—Northview, Kenowa Hills, Kent City, Forest Hills, Lowell, and Byron Center. Caledonia may be coming on board as well. Superintendents and principals at the schools with an SRO had nothing but high praise for the officers and the changes it has brought about in their schools. For example, Dustin Cichocki, assistant principal at Lowell High School said, “Simply put, our students are making smarter decisions because of the knowledge they have obtained from Todd (Deputy Summerhays, SRO). I think all buildings should have an advocate and resource like this.”

The school and the Kent County Sheriff Department would make the selection of the officer together. The Sheriff Department would go through the applicants, and choose four or five who might be a good fit. The school would then decide between those applicants.

In addition to deputy training, the SROs also get extra training: Basic School Resource Officer training, and how to keep schools safe. Before the end of the year, they would also get training in assessing threats in a school environment (from the FBI); and training in social media investigations.

What does a SRO do? Here are a few examples:

• Meeting with principal each morning to exchange information gathered from parents, community members, and social media to detect potential spillover of threats, drug activity, and other behavior into campus.

• Meeting with campus and community social workers to understand when and how at-home issues may be motivating a student’s disruptive behavior in order to work with school staff to ensure effective and supportive responses.

• Monitoring radios to watch for spillover onto campus and be a familiar face if one of their students is involved in an incident off campus.

• Listening to students’ concerns about bullying by other students and taking those problems to school administrators to help develop solutions.

• Providing counseling and referrals when sex-abuse victims turn to them for help because of the relationship and trust the officers have built with the students.

• Conduct home visits to contact parents of at-risk students and assist those families.

• Working with the school administrations to keep the schools emergency management plan updated.

• Scheduling emergency drills in conjunction with other local agencies.

• Instruct students on technology awareness, domestic violence, traffic safety and bullying.

• Create and conduct a distracted driving course for students.

• Enroll students in the MSA STOPPED program (parents contacted when students get pulled over).

• Intervene early when student’s behavior starts to raise red flags.

• Stand-by when administrators deal with volatile parents or students.

The SRO position would adapt to whatever the need the school had.

The Board of Education may discuss and vote on the proposal at their next regular board meeting on Monday, June 6, at 6:45 p.m.

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