Teachers and parents in the city of Sacramento are on both sides of a debate as to whether police officers should be on school grounds full time.
Right now, there are no school resource officers (SROs) employed to respond to calls for help from the Sacramento City Unified School District. Part of this was by design of the district and the school board, which cut the number of positions from eight to three. But right now, the number of officers employed by the district is zero.
One argument against SROs is their use to address discipline issues that should be the role of the site administrator.
Those in favor say an officer stationed at a school gets to know the children and can become a trusted resource for children in need of assistance. Some supporters also note the officers, who are Sacramento Police officers, can stop or respond immediately to school shootings.
One of the proposals from the district was a complete elimination of the program, but the board split the difference, cutting the number of officer positions by more than half, with a sergeant to oversee them. Each of the three officers are supposed to patrol one-third of the district, waiting for calls for service.
But none have been hired because the contract between the school and the Sacramento Police Department expired in June and has not been renewed.
Linda Zanze works the front office for Rosemont High School. She says school administration now have to perform duties she says are better suited to officers, like stopping a fight last Friday.
"There probably was a group of 60 or 70 kids,” Zanze said. “[Principals] were the ones who had to go and try to head that off without a school resource officer."
Fights not involving a weapon or aggravated assault are now the job of school administrators, under policy changes passed by the board.
Zanze says the officer assigned to her school for the last decade knew the children and was instrumental in preventing tensions from escalating. She also says calls for help now go to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department because the school is not in the city limits and that response times average between 25 and 45 minutes.
The board was split 5-1 in favor of reducing the number of positions, with one member absent. Board members say they tried to strike a balance between safety and the feelings of people who have complained about police at school.
"There's a fear element to that, or a feeling of intimidation by having law enforcement directly on campus," board member Michael Minnick said. "Sometimes that does things like discourages parent participation in school activities, sometimes for parents coming to school meetings." said.
Of the 10 students and parents we spoke with, none noticed a difference in student behavior so far. But Caleb Moss, who is a sophomore and black, said he wondered if time will tell that the board made a mistake.
“Last year there wasn’t that many incidents with students because there was an officer there. But now there’s not one, so there might be more,” Moss said.
In an effort to assuage safety fears, the district would like to spend $10 million of bond funding for interior-locking doors for the two-thirds of doors in the district that do not have them.
The district’s Nathanial Browning did note in August that there were other methods of keeping kids safe.
“There are also other alternatives that are free that we can focus on to increase safety,” Browning said, “such as where you place the bookshelf for example in a classroom, up right against the main entrance door so it blocks visibility.”
But there is still the matter of hiring the three officers, who must request the assignment and go through training. The district’s Alex Barrios says it sent a draft contract to Sacramento Police Aug. 20, and that the city attorney is reviewing it.
The district is scheduled to go back before the board with an update in February.