DeKalb – In the last DeKalb School Board of Education meeting, the idea of hiring additional school resource officers (SRO) was called “a Band-Aid approach.”
Addressing the DeKalb District 428 school board this week, DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said he agrees, but said he believes officers in schools is needed and necessary.
“It is a Band-Aid approach, which is why we need plans in place,” Byrd said. “We can’t give up the fight on the front lines. Are we putting a Band-Aid on it? Yes, we are. But it’s necessary.”
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas and Byrd attended Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting to discuss the city providing three additional SROs to the school district. No vote was held on the matter this week.
District administration and the city of DeKalb recommend increasing the total number of SROs in the school district by adding three SROs. The increase would provide two SROs at DeKalb High School, one SRO at each of the two middle schools, and two SROs to be shared by the eight elementary schools.
The school district has an intergovernmental agreement with the DeKalb Police Department to share costs of SROs’ salaries and benefits at a rate of 75% of their contract, according to the school board agenda.
The additional expenditure for the three new SROs would be approximately $430,000, with a higher or lower salary requirement based on experience. An additional $36,000 would be needed for police vehicles, with a total cost of the three additional SROs being approximately $466,000.
Byrd said that an SRO recently approached him after breaking up a physical fight between students. Byrd said the fight put the SRO in a dangerous situation, and said it’s his job as chief to ensure the safety of everyone.
“I’m not going to allow, one way or the other, I’m not going to allow that SRO in [high school] to get in that situation again,” Byrd said. “I’ll figure it out, if it doesn’t happen on this side, I’ll figure it out on my side, because at the end of the day, I can’t let that happen.”
Nicklas also spoke about the increasing number of calls that SROs have responded to at schools. Since the beginning of the school year, the DeKalb High School SRO responded to more than 400 calls for police service, according to district documents. The reasons for these calls include fights, gun threats, drug possession or distribution and general intimidation, documents state.
Nicklas listed the number of calls SROs have responded to at nearby school districts’ high schools since August: Elgin had 539, Naperville 210, Carpentersville 232, Huntley 171, Kaneland 54 and Sycamore 84.
“The numbers bring us to the table to discuss,” Nicklas said. “We are not advocating that SROs are the answer to all of the social emotional issues that may arise, but we [also need to] make a big difference to the situations outside of the school’s four walls that may be creating anxiety, frustration and so forth.”
Byrd attributed the behavioral issues at schools to domestic troubles at home. He said that the DeKalb Police Department responds to six or seven domestic trouble calls per night on average. He said he believes that behavior can mimic itself the next day at school.
“I think we have to think about where it starts. We have to heal the family,” Byrd said. “It’s a totality. You have to heal that family, heal that child, to reduce fights. I promise you that there’s not one child that would get up and want to get into a fight. There has to be a reason for the outburst.”
Board Member Jeromy Olson recommended having the board wait until the district’s safety audit is finalized to vote upon additional SROs, expected to be complete in mid-May to June. Director of Human Resources Deetra Sallis said she would bring the audit’s findings to the next board meeting.
Olson also suggested looking into security firm companies that could be hired to provide security officers instead of hiring additional SROs.
“I feel like there’s a lot more research that can be done and discussion that can happen,” Olson said. “If we’re going to spend another $600,000 of taxpayer money, I think it deserves due diligence. ... I want to make sure we’re doing right by the taxpayers’ money. It’s our responsibility to check every option.”
The school board will discuss hiring additional SROs at the next Board of Education meeting, held Tuesday, May 3, at The Education Center, 901 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb.