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Prior to Monday night’s City Council meeting, one of the City Council members asked me what I thought the big story of the night was going to be. I told that Council Member that it would depend on how many people show up to talk about fluoride or it could be about the proposed text amendment to the zoning laws. I was wrong. The biggest story of the night was the discussion held about the School Resource Officer position.
The SRO position in Eudora was created in 2002 and was initially funded by a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant the city had applied for and received. This grant expired in 2004 and the City of Eudora decided at that time, to continue to fund the SRO position in it’s entirety.
For Monday nights Council meeting, City Administrator John Harrenstein and Eudora Police Chief prepared a letter that was scheduled to be sent to the School District on Tuesday. In the letter, Harrenstein and Walker intended to inform the School District that the School Resource Officer would be reassigned to a Patrol Officer position to help fill the need of growing service demands on the Police Department. The letter went on to say that it was the intention of the Police Department to continue the DARE program, respond to student conflicts and respond to any other emergencies that may arise. It also stated the day shift patrol officers would be expected to conduct regular building checks each day during the school year and to request meetings to establish a clear and direct communication plan for when incidents occur.
At the order of the City Council, the letter will not be sent at this time. The majority of the council, along with Mayor Scott Hopson, disagreed with pulling the SRO. Councilman Kenny Massey, a former Eudora Police officer and currently a member of the Douglas County Sheriff’s office, was the most vocal of the council members on this issue.
“I think the police department is making a huge mistake,” Massey said. “It’s about building relationships with students. That one affiliation may be the one thing that keeps relationships on a positive note.”
Councilman Tim Reazin agreed with Massey.
“My thoughts are is that it is a deterrent, Reazin stated. “My kids see the current SRO as a positive influence. They know who he is.”
Neither city staff nor any council members presented empirical data about whether a SRO either deters crime or has no significant effect.
“Ive spent many hours reading study after study and every evaluation has been been driven off an opinionated survey and no actual data,” Walker told the Council.
Walker stated that in 2011, there were 47 “calls” (need for an officer) at the schools. Walker said he did not have a specific statistical breakdown as to the seriousness of those 47 calls but did indicate that a majority of the calls were non-priority issues.
Councilwoman Ruth Hughs, a retired teacher in the Eudora School District, stated she was in support of pulling the SRO because one SRO can’t be everywhere at once.
“From 2002 to 2011, I had everyday contact with the program,” Hughs said. “The SRO is never in the building where he is needed. You have someone (referring to the SRO) in another building or another part of the building and it (referring to an event needing assistance) is occurring somewhere else.”
Hughs later added that you need to balance the needs of the city and the School District.
“The School District, if they really supported this, should put some money in this,” Hughs said. “We are pulling away police service from the city by having a SRO in the building.”
As to the issue of whether or not the SRO will remain in the school, for now, it appears that he will stay. The matter has been sent back to the Police Department and city staff. The Council charged city officials with trying to come up with some data so they can determine the most efficient use of the officer. The disposition of the SRO will likely come before the City Council at a not too distant meeting.