Perrysburg may put officer in schools
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 09:24
PERRYSBURG - Students' education may soon be bolstered by the boys in blue, as city council members who serve on the Service-Safety Committee expressed support for a school resource officer Monday.
The position is listed as an item in the 2014 police budget and will be reviewed during the yearly appropriations process. It required no committee action, and unless it's removed during budgeting, an officer will be stationed in Perrysburg schools, primarily the high school, beginning in January.
Salary and benefits for the position are listed at $75,617. The school district would reimburse 69 percent of that cost, or $52,175. A current officer would be assigned to the schools, with a new officer hired to take his place on patrol.
Police Chief Dan Paez and Superintendent Tom Hosler both spoke in support of the initiative Monday which was questioned but generally well received by councilors.
Paez explained that the intent isn't to police students but to educate and connect with them. He said he was discouraged when officers provided security in schools after the Sandy Hook shooting and their presence elicited anxiety from students.
"Immediately that raised the concern level for students in the school, to see an officer there," he said.
Students often bond with resource officers and grow to trust them, seeing them as figures looking to help and protect them rather than waiting for them to do something wrong. With issues like sexting, cyber-bullying proving harder for administrators to uncover, someone who's seen as a friend first would appear to have a better chance of addressing such matters.
"It's nice to have an officer that on a daily basis is out there interacting with the kids, so the kids trust him enough to share this information as they hear it," Paez said.
"It gives us a quicker conduit for that information. We want to be on top of these concerns so that we're not dealing with the aftermath."SClBHosler recalled an incident at a district where he worked in Michigan, about half the size of Perrysburg, in which a trusted school resource officer almost certainly prevented a crime others may not have.
One day, a student spoke with that school's SRO about a friend in eighth grade who was considering going to see someone they met online. The student was concerned for their friend, and the officer used that information to derail what would have been a liaison between the young girl and a 47-year-old truck driver from Texas.
In that case, the officer's presence "proved invaluable," Hosler said, also pointing out that Perrysburg is the largest district in the region without such an officer.
In response to a question from council member Mike Olmstead, Paez and Hosler explained the distinction between probable cause, required of officers during investigations, and "reasonable suspicion," the separate standard followed by school staff in disciplinary matters.
While teachers would be permitted to demand a student empty their pockets if they smell of cigarette smoke, officers, even SROs, must meet a higher threshold to initiate a search.
"The laws that govern evidence, questioning and interrogation do not stop just because that officer is in a (school) building," Hosler said, insisting there would be a separation between staff and law enforcement efforts.
As well, invasive searches and over-enforcement would defeat the purpose of the program, which is to build rapport with students, he said.
Council member Tom Mackin, an attorney and candidate for Perrysburg Municipal Court judge, agreed with Hosler's sentiment.
"You can just tell they get information and prevent a lot of things from happening because they're there on a regular basis and they have the trust of the kids who are there," Mackin said.
Paez also mentioned the possibility of connecting a law enforcement presence in the school with a diversion program for first-time offenders, though it would need equal support from juvenile court. There was also discussion of having the SRO teach classes on distracted driving, bullying and drug and alcohol abuse, though separate from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.