Three cops return to school beat
Three school-resource officers lost to budget cuts in 2010 will be back patrolling the hallways of District 51 schools, the result of a creative funding agreement initiated by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and facilitated by Mesa County staff.
Sheriff Stan Hilkey presented details Monday of a four-year, $375,000 grant his office sought and received through the federal Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program, which will fund the rehiring of the three officers laid off in 2010.
The grant requires a partial match — amounting to $177,749 — which the county’s Department of Human Services will fund with state Temporary Assistance to Needy Families resources.
“Over the years, I’ve never heard one parent or teacher being uptight about taxpayers’ money being spent on this kind of resource,” Hilkey told county commissioners. He said school-resource officers provide a chance for young people to interact positively with law enforcement from an early age.
Hilkey stressed the importance of having an approachable police presence in schools. He framed his support in the context of all the high-profile shooting incidents that have happened in schools and been splashed in newspaper headlines across the country.
“There have been several times when kids have been contemplating bringing guns to school, and we’ve had the opportunity to intervene as a direct result of school-resource officers,” Hilkey said.
“We think the opportunity for prevention exists every day.”
The grant specifically calls for the reinstatement of officers who were previously laid off, but Hilkey said those officers eventually were hired back in different capacities. In those cases, the grant calls for the hiring of recently returned veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The hiring process will begin “immediately,” according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Benjamin.
She said that they’ll get right to the process of screening applicants, hiring the three new officers, training them and getting them assigned to local schools.
The new officers could be back in hallways and on school campuses “several months down the road,” Benjamin said.
Currently, there is one school-resource officer in the Sheriff’s Department, who is primarily assigned to Central High School, but also is the singular police presence at the elementary and middle feeder schools.
The Fruita Police Department has two school-resource officers, and the Grand Junction Police Department also counts two school-resource officers on staff.
While the grant provides salary and benefits for the first three years, it also requires a commitment to keep the officers on staff in year four. The county is on the hook for that fourth year, to the tune of $184,161.
They’re also responsible for material costs for outfitting officers and providing vehicles, which will be covered through existing resources within the Sheriff’s Department, officials said.
District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz, no stranger to creative funding based on recent budgetary constraints, was appreciative of the effort Monday.
“I come to you today knowing that I cannot commit to you any money to support this grant. But I can look you in the eye and tell you how important and valuable of a resource this is to our community,” Schultz said.
Landing the latest grant took a bit of an effort. A previous attempt was denied last year, and this year’s deal was dependent on the Department of Human Services creatively finding the funds for the required match.
“(Human Serivces is) more than just a funding source that happens to fit the guidelines. They really do benefit from this, particularly in the Child Protective Division,” said Commissioner Janet Rowland. “It’s a big value for them to have the school-resource officer there.”