Federal grant of $545,000 could put cops back in schools

Forced to eliminate three-quarters of its school resource officers because of steep budget cuts last year, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department hopes to tap a federal grant to reinstate those officers who provided security, offered mentorship and otherwise fulfilled a variety of roles in local schools.

County commissioners unanimously signed off on an application Monday to the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program that would net the county $545,000. The money would cover the salaries and benefits of three officers for three years. The county would be required to retain those officers for at least another year.

Officials expect to learn this summer whether they will receive the grant. If they do, officers could return to the hallways next fall.

“Being able to have officers back on campuses will be worth a lot,” Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

Sagging county revenues last fall forced the Sheriff’s Department to eliminate the positions of three officers at Grand Mesa, Mount Garfield and Redlands middle schools, which also covered the 10 elementary schools that feed into those middle schools. That left only one school resource officer patrolling schools in unincorporated areas of the county.

Lt. Jim Fogg said he has heard anecdotally that schools that lost officers have seen slight increases in bullying and fighting.

More than that, though, the Sheriff’s Department has lost relationships it built with school staff, parents, students, the Department of Human Services and community groups like Mesa County Partners.

“It’s one component of our agency where we’ve lost touch with our community a little bit,” Fogg said.

School District 51 safety coordinator Tim Leon said the reduction in school resource officers has had a variety of impacts, including schools conducting fewer safety drills, slower response times to incidents at schools and some parents feeling less comfortable about school safety with patrol cars no longer parked outside schools.

“I think anything we can do to get SROs back into the schools is a step in the right direction,” Leon said. “They’re vital to what we do.”

Should it receive the grant, the Sheriff’s Department’s first priority will be to rehire those officers who were laid off or reassigned when the budget ax fell, Fogg said.


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