116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids is offering to fully fund two additional school resource officers to do work at Cedar Rapids middle schools after the school board voted earlier this month to remove those officers.
In a letter to the school board — obtained by The Gazette — dated Tuesday and signed by Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, the two additional school resource officers could start their day at the Cedar Rapids Police Department to serve middle schools.
These additional officers would bring the total number of police in Cedar Rapids schools back up to seven, where it had been — but this time with the city picking up the tab for two and not continuing to base them at McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School.
“The city hears and supports the district’s preference to have the officers based at the CRPD to begin the school day,” O’Donnell wrote. “We are confident in the progress of the SRO program and the value it provides to the CRCSD alongside the other existing and future supporting services that meet students where they are.”
The proposal comes after the school board voted to decrease the number of police in schools — removing them from middle schools altogether — and reduce the cost of the contract proportionally.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District began an audit of its school resource officer program last summer after many students asked for change, driven by a disproportionate rate of Black students being arrested.
“I wish the mayor would take this issue seriously,” school board member Dexter Merschbrock said of the city’s offer. “This conversation has been lead by students based on their lived experience. They are the ones who brought the disparate arrest data to the board table. They led the efforts to survey students about the program. When Mayor O’Donnell doesn’t acknowledge that, she’s erasing their effort and perspective, and they deserve better.”
The contract was approved 5-2, with members Jennifer Neumann and Marcy Roundtree opposing. The contract the board approved July 11 includes school resource officers stationed at Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center.
“The same services provided now by (school resource officers) can be provided for free by us calling 911 or the police non-emergency number,” school board member Jennifer Borcherding said at the July 11 board meeting.
The school board’s decision is in conflict with a Cedar Rapids City Council vote last month that includes keeping police officers stationed each in McKinley and Wilson, where police responded to a slightly higher number of incidents this past academic year. These two officers also would help address needs at other middle schools, under the city’s vote.
In her letter to the school board, O’Donnell said keeping “our most vulnerable citizens, along with teachers and staff, safe, is a top priority.”
“Our uniquely trained SROs are more than first responders in an emergency — or the rule of law in challenging circumstances. Their success often relies on a foundation of relationships they form with school-aged children and CRCSD administrators,” O’Donnell said.
While the number of high school students charged with crimes decreased 84 percent during the 2021-22 school year, the number of Black students being charged remains disproportionate.
Last year, the district and the Cedar Rapids police set joint goals of reducing by 50 percent or more the number of student arrests and charges filed and of reducing the disproportionate arrests of Black students by 50 percent or more.
The district at the time removed permanently stationed police at the two middle schools and created two “floater” officer positions to serve K-12 buildings as needed.
Black students in Cedar Rapids middle schools are almost seven times more likely to be charged with a crime than their white peers.
Eighteen percent of the Cedar Rapids district’s student body is Black.
Police data show that during the 2021-22 school year, there were 51 incidents across Cedar Rapids middle schools, 30 of which were at McKinley and Wilson, and they include issues such as simple assaults, schools threats and loaded weapons. The data encompasses any incidents generating a police report whether a school resource or patrol officer responded. The district reported 33 requests involving only school resource officers across elementary and middle schools.
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