The End of the SRO – (G.W.)

Published February 21, 2012 by justicewg

This story from 2004 is important because it has so many failures to gain consensus and listen to parents at the school.  As of 2016, there is no SRO (police in school), and there have been no shootings, major vandalism, or any of the chaos that was predicted in order to justify a SRO.

(begin 2004 story from Grandview Watch)

The city of Grandview announced the end of the School Resource Officer program at the schools in the January 8th Grandview This Week. This brings a close to a program that began in controversy, was passed under highly contentious circumstances, and now ends with little notice. One has to wonder just how much time and money some highly paid Grandview officials wasted on this program. Read on for the story of the SRO and the people who fought for and against this program.

The COPS program

The SRO program began as a grant that was available as a part of the federal COPS program. The COPS Office was created as a result of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (during Clinton’s first term in office). The program distributed grants to promote the idea of “community policing” a nebulous idea that encompassed many separate programs and ideas. Quoting from the COPS website:

“Community policing represents a shift from more traditional law enforcement in that it focuses on prevention of crime and the fear of crime on a very local basis. Community policing puts law enforcement professionals on the streets and assigns them a beat, so they can build mutually beneficial relationships with the people they serve. By earning the trust of the members of their communities and making those individuals stakeholders in their own safety, community policing makes law enforcement safer and more efficient, and makes America safer.”

All this sounds good, the idea of more police “on the beat” and engaged with the community is a noble ideal. The questions that it brings up though are immediate – why is a special program needed to place police in the street, can’t this decision be made on a local level? Isn’t that the way police work should be done from the start?

The focus of the COPS program spread in more directions with each passing year. It started simply to place “cops on the beat”, then spread into adding police to rural areas, anti-gang, domestic violence, distressed neighborhoods, the Technology Program, and in 1999 the COPS in Schools grants. By this year the COPS program had hit its funding high point ($1,127.7 million), and had become a program with a diffused mission. Even more grants followed such as Justice-Based After School, and Value-Based Initiatives.

While each of these programs may have been created in good faith to target specific goals, it became clear to critics of the COPS program that there was little evidence that the money that was spent was actually having a real effect on the problems. The COPS grants were also being used as a replacement for local funding, by using federal grants to fund officers who were doing work that had previously been done on a local level.

While the effectiveness of the COPS grants was questionable, the shifting of the funds from the federal level to states and local governments was not. It had created a bureaucracy that rankled the Republican “less government” true believers. With the election of Bush the days of the program were numbered.

COPS in Grandview

According to former police chief Shewring and school superintendent Allen, the idea for a SRO in the school began as an offer from the Chief while the two were at a conference together. As much as they tried to justify the position in later meetings, it was clear that the genesis was simply that money was available, not a specific need. Throughout the debate over the SRO it was always emphasized that the position would be paid with “free money” (federal grants).

Shewring first asked the city council to approve a SRO in May of 2002, because of

alcohol, drug abuse, larceny, and vandalism relating directly to the school system“.

The immediate question from council members was if these problems were a real issue in Grandview schools. School administrators have reported that on the average there have been only one or two incidents at the schools per year that requires the police to be involved. After it became clear that the council could not be frightened into approval of the grant, the rational shifted. By December the message was that the SRO would be a “liaison” between the school and the police, and a role model/counselor to the students.

Although this message of the SRO being a buddy to the students was the official line, the speakers before the city council repeatedly used the “fear factor”. Scenarios with shootings in the school were always mentioned, and terrorism was even brought up (although how a single cop would stop an Al-Qaeda attack was not explained).

The final debate on the SRO in the council was in January of 2003. The council had been split on the issue, and Finan had been quoted as requiring the school board to pay for half of the costs of the SRO before she would give her support. The board had already said that they had no money to contribute, so the critics of the program thought that the SRO would be voted down or at least delayed.

Two board members, Suzanne McLeod and Brian Cook *, concocted a tactic that brought drama to the meeting. They asked a former student who had been involved in drug use at the school to speak before the council, and he gave an impassioned call for action to be taken to prevent “out of control drug use”, claiming that “50 to 100 students got high every lunch period”. As the student himself admitted, he didn’t know if a SRO would be effective in solving the problem, because he had never been in a school with a SRO. We may never know if this drama was the deciding factor, but the council voted that night to approve the SRO position.

The following night I went before the school board and asked them if it was true that there was “out of control drug use” in the schools. Suddenly the problem had become minor – only small increases in survey responses could be pointed out to show increased drug use. Test scores were up, the principal had not seen increases in discipline problems, and as Mr. Allen himself told me, “people who are using drugs tend to think that everyone else is doing it also, so their anecdotal evidence is not useful”. Too bad Mr. Allen couldn’t have been at the council meeting to share that wisdom.

The School Board

The most shameful actions taken throughout the SRO saga were by Mr. Allen and the school board. In an agreement with the city Allen had promised that an open meeting for parents would be held to gauge the support for the SRO. Instead, no public meeting was held, only random questions asked of some PTO parents. The board met in a special 7:30 AM meeting in October that was attended by no parents, and gave unanimous approval for the SRO. The board “discussed the issue” in a meeting that lasted 8 minutes from beginning, through discussion, voting, and adjournment.

For unknown reasons a pang of responsibility caused the board to send out a fact sheet and survey in November of 2002 (after they had voted). This paper contained “facts” such as “SRO programs have never failed to meet their objectives”. Unless you count the SRO program that was started in the Grandview schools in 1995, and ended after the officer resigned from the program. She said that she had “not had support from officials”, but those who were watching her thought that she was bored from sitting in the school office talking to the secretaries. Another “fact” in the sheet was that “The SRO grant and others will pay for the cost of the position”. While Shewring hoped to find other grants, they were not at all assured at this point, in fact the entire COPS program was on the cutting block. Even with the claim that it would be “free money”, one quarter of the respondents said that they were not in favor of the position (we can only guess at the results if the parents had not been given false facts).

The Feds and the funding

All throughout the period that Shewring and Allen were pushing for the SRO the Bush administration was in the process of cutting the program (and Shewring knew this, he spent much of his time chasing grants from the feds). Studies done through 2001 and 2002 showed that there was little objective proof that the COPS program was effective. In fact the Bush administration tried to slash the funding for the COPS program in 2002, but it was restored at moderate levels by congress. Shewring and his supporters knew this as they pushed for the grant, they said in their speeches before the council that homeland security would be taking away federal money (but this only caused them to take the tactic of “we need to get the money before it is gone”). By 2003 the money that was to pay for the supplemental grants was gone, as the Grandview critics of the SRO program had warned. The city of Grandview was in deep financial trouble, and it now was faced with paying all matching funds for an unneeded program (at least $200K). The city has decided to cut the program, at this point the only question is how much it will cost to extricate the city from this boondoggle. **

Trying to prevent the SRO

A small group of parents and residents worked to try to stop the SRO program. Through letters to the paper, speaking before the council and the school board, and putting up a website, we attempted to show that the SRO was a program that was unneeded and would be a waste of money. Unfortunately it was too little and too late – if we had we known about the SRO before the school board voted and convinced more parents to join us, we might have stopped the program. The tactic used by Mr. Allen – ignoring his agreement to have a public meeting, and taking a vote in a morning board meeting that no parent attended – was successful in choking off public notice and ramming the program through.

Officer Small, the Grandview policeman who became the SRO, was never an issue with the critics of the program. We thought that he was a good officer who sincerely believed in the program, and did his best to help the children. We hope that he doesn’t conclude that our opposition to the SRO was ever a criticism of his professionalism. Our opposition was based on the fact that a SRO is unneeded, ineffective, and a waste of money for Grandview. We hope that Office Small will continue to be the liaison between the police and the schools.

One last word for the supporters of the SRO. The program ultimately was ended because it was cut by the Bush administration. We hope they will remember that when they vote in the November elections.

1-14-2004

* Brian Cook says that he had nothing to do with recruiting the ex-student who spoke in favor of the SRO. I only saw Suzanne McLeod speaking to the student before the meeting, so I have no proof they both were involved. Mr. Cook, for what it is worth, now says that he regrets supporting the SRO when he was on the board.

** Director of Finance Nicholson was later able to plead poverty and release Grandview from the contract which might have required us to pay all of the grant money back. No thanks to Shewring – he was gone. “

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