More police resource officers approved for DeKalb schools, pending city council vote

DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes answers questions during DeKalb School District 428's Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. During the meeting, the school board voted to approve two school resource officers with the option of a third if needed for the 2022-2023 school year.

DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 is one step closer to bringing two more police school resource officers from the DeKalb Police Department to district schools starting next school year.

On Tuesday, the DeKalb Board of Education voted, 4-1, to approve two school resource officers with the option of a third if needed for the 2022-2023 school year. Board member Jeromy Olson abstained from voting, Board member Amanda Harness voted no and Board President Sarah Moses was absent. Board members Samantha McDavid, Ariel Owens, Deyci Ramirez and David Seymour voted yes.

One officer would be stationed at DeKalb High School and the other would be stationed at Clinton Rosette and Huntley middle schools. The officer appointments won’t be finalized, however, until a DeKalb City Council vote is taken, expected Monday.

Under the SRO intergovernmental agreement contract with the city and school district, District 428 would reimburse the city of DeKalb 75% of the total amount for the officer’s salaries and benefits, which total $130,821 per SRO including district-related overtime costs, documents show. The district’s 75% funding obligation totals $98,116 per SRO, records show.

The school district also is expected to help pay for the DeKalb Police Department to buy three more police squad vehicles, a $36,000 cost, according to district documents.

DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes attended the school board meeting and said he expects the DeKalb City Council to take up the vote on the SRO contracts and police vehicles Monday.

If final approval is given, officers will begin the training process, said DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd, who also was in attendance Tuesday. He said school resource officer training can take up to 10 weeks for police officers who’ve already been through traditional police academy.

To fill positions that will be vacated by patrol officers who become SROs, new hires with the DeKalb Police Department would need to complete a 26-week training process before they can patrol solo, Byrd said.

The school resource officer vote has been the topic of debate for weeks among the DeKalb school board and city officials. In previous conversations, school board members and Byrd have called the proposal “a Band-Aid approach” amid what district staff have reported as a rise in behavioral issues identified in schools.

“[It’s] a good solution in the meantime,” Owens said Tuesday.

Before voting, Seymour said he questioned the need for three additional SROs, which was the original proposal up for vote.

“I definitely feel that we need one more … at the high school, but I’m not so sure that I feel that we need three total,” Seymour said. “We talked a lot about phasing out, but I’d really like to know what it’d look like to phase in.”

Olson spoke at length about whether the school board should look into private third-party security companies instead of police to lower costs. The initial three-SRO proposal – which would have put officers at DeKalb High School, one among the middle schools and one among the elementary schools – came with a $430,000 budget ask.

“If we’re going to spend half a million dollars of taxpayer money, I’d like to see us do due diligence,” Olson said. “We do know that SROs are half a million dollars, and what I was just reading, and the due diligence that I did, it looks like a lot of the schools are going away from SROs statistically.”

Olson said he’d prefer one more security officer at the high school.

McDavid said that she saw the hiring of more SRO officers as a multi-prong approach.

“It’s such a complex issue when you’re talking about student behavior and student achievement and how those interact with each other,” McDavid said. “I think you need more than one approach. You can’t just say we need social workers. You have to look at all of the parts that we need, and I think that’s what this plan is trying to address.”

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