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School resource officer program moving forward

The Park Rapids School Board and City Council both took actions last week paving the way for a school resource officer.

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Jeff Appel

The Park Rapids School Board and City Council both approved an amended school resource officer agreement last week.

On July 8, the school board approved an addendum to the district’s joint powers agreement (JPA) with the city establishing the SRO position, after passing a previous version of the agreement on June 3. As Police Chief Jeff Appel told the city council the following evening, a longer and more detailed version of the original JPA came back from the city’s lawyers during the interim.

In the amended agreement, the SRO will spend approximately 60 percent of his or her annual hours working at the schools or its functions during the school year, and the school district will reimburse the city for 60 percent of the officer’s wages and benefits.

Outside of his or her school duties, the SRO will serve as a Park Rapids police officer. The position is slated for 1,248 hours per year, with the school to reimburse the city $48,840 for the upcoming school year, $50,305 in 2020-21, and $51,814 in 2021-22.

School board member Dennis Dodge moved approval of the addendum. The motion passed without dissent.

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City council discussion

Appel presented both the JPA and a proposal to hire an 11th full-time police officer to the city council on July 9.

“Currently,” said Appel, “we offer services to the school district with our on-duty, day-shift patrol officer. In the morning, they go to the different schools and spend as much time as they can in the schools, and also respond to calls through the school.”

However, he said, some days the day shift officer is the only officer on duty. “It limits time in the schools, which would lead to (the schools’) request for a full-time officer.”

As to staffing the SRO position, Appel said the police department would have a competitive, internal posting, requiring two years of service experience.

“Our goal is to have this officer be a juvenile expert,” he said, “not just limited to the school, but outside of school hours, and to utilize that person (for) all juvenile matters that pertain to law enforcement.”

Appel said the police department’s current staffing levels cannot accommodate the SRO position. He therefore asked that part-time officer Kelli LeClaire be promoted to full-time status.

This new full-time position would fill the SRO’s place in the department’s patrol schedule, Appel said, “and that would allow that officer to move into the school during the school year.”

Regarding LeClaire, Appel said, “I feel the city is lucky that we have her.” When she applied in January, “we were so impressed with her that we immediately offered her a part-time position.”

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Appel shared his goals for the SRO position, saying he wants students to be able to interact with the officer in a non-confrontational way.

“We want to teach them the value of the legal system and provide the students easier access to that system,” he said. “The officer will serve as a role model, as well as a resource and mentor to students who have questions and needs the officer can assist with. We want that first-name basis within the district.”

Noting that the school has approximately 1,650 students and 230 staff, Appel said, “It’s pretty much its own little city in itself, and it’s a key part of our public safety that we focus on as a department.”

Other goals of the position, he said, include deterring crime, promoting respect for people and property, working with social services on juvenile issues, providing instruction on law enforcement topics, maintaining school safety and security, responding quickly to incidents, improving communication between police and the school, and helping the school improve its emergency procedures.

During the summer, Appel said, the SRO would be assigned “as I would see fit,” adding, “We can move that person around and have extra manpower.” Noting that service calls spike during the summer, he concluded, “This officer would be invaluable to us.”

Council member Tom Conway asked Appel how confident he is that his hiring process will choose the right kind of officer. “If they can’t get along with those students, it’s going to move the needle in the wrong direction,” said Conway.

Appel said that the SRO agreement gives him authority to pull the officer out and get the right person into the position. There will be “constant open communication with the school district to make sure that all of these goals are being achieved and we have the right person in there,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll pick the right person to put in there, initially, and they’ll flourish.”

City Treasurer Angela Brumbaugh said that hiring a new officer will cost the city about $73,000 in 2019 wages. The SRO position, requiring two years of experience, would cost $81,400.

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Under the city’s current agreement regarding day-shift officers, the school is paying the city about $28,000 a year, Brumbaugh said. With the new agreement, the city would reimburse the city for 60 percent of the SRO’s employment costs, or $48,840.

“That being said, because we’re hiring a new officer, the cost to the police budget will go up approximately $52,160,” she said.

Conway moved to approve the SRO agreement with the school and, in a separate motion, to employ LeClaire full-time. Both motions passed without dissent.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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