IOWA CITY – The City Council Tuesday night OK’d a grant application that would provide money to put armed police officers in secondary schools in the Iowa City Community School District.
The intent is to hire two new police officers to serve as what are known as school resource officers in the district's three high schools and three junior high schools.
The move comes as school safety has taken on added significance following last December’s deadly elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
The City Council voted 6-1 to apply for the federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, but not without some questions about the wisdom of such a choice.
Council member Jim Throgmorton, who cast the dissenting vote, said he was worried increasing the police presence in schools would increase the likelihood young people get drawn into the criminal justice system.
He said he supports the idea of improving connections between the police and youth, but “I’m not persuaded that having armed officers in City (High) and West (High) are the best way to do that.”
Council member Susan Mims, a former school board member, said, if officers do get assigned to the schools, there needs to be proper monitoring to make sure it does not lead primarily to more students getting in trouble with law enforcement.
“I think this is an opportunity to take a real leadership position and try to build some ties between the police department and the youth in this community,” she said.
The school board is expected to vote on the grant application May 21. Superintendent Stephen Murley has said while the officers would be used for security purposes, the goal also would be to improve relationships with kids. He also said the principals are supportive of the officers.
Police Chief Sam Hargadine noted that the city’s so-called ad hoc diversity committee recently recommended that police officers have more positive interactions with the public.
“The SRO program is probably where I see us being able to do that so much better, so much more effectively,” he said.
Kingsley Botchway II, chairman of the diversity committee, said what he had in mind was more of an extension of community policing efforts.
“It’s a little bit of a stretch as far as putting officers in schools,” he said.
Hargadine said that officers are regularly called to the schools now and are hired to be at many high school athletic events.
He also said the arming of the officers is not negotiable for him because part of the reason they would be in the schools is to protect against a public safety catastrophe.
If the grant is approved, the city would pay for training, equipment and patrol cars for the two officers, Hargadine said. The school district would cover the matching funds for the grant and for the officers’ compensation after the grant expires, he said.The federal money would stop after three years. The four-year agreement envisioned by the city and the school district would require $211,498 in local matching funds.