116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials are adamant that police in schools promote a safer learning environment while some Cedar Rapids school board members question the effectiveness of the school resource officer program, board documents released Friday show.
The rift between the school board’s skepticism and the City Council’s unanimous backing of Cedar Rapids’ school resource officer program mirrors a larger national debate over whether to maintain funding for police or bolster social supports to address the root causes of crime and behavioral issues.
To iron out its position on an agreement for school resource officers in the 2022-23 school year, the school board will hold a work session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, before voting July 11 on the program.
Cedar Rapids police and school officials agree with permanently assigning five officers to Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington and Metro high schools and to Polk Alternative. But middle schools have been a point of contention.
Under terms advanced June 14 by the council, the city has proposed keeping an officer stationed each in McKinley STEAM Academy and in Wilson Middle School, where police responded to a higher number of incidents this past academic year. These two officers also could help address needs at other middle schools.
The council backs maintaining police in middle schools given the number of police calls to the schools, and the May shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.
The school district proposes removing the “floater officers” next year and having them stationed at the police department instead.
During the 2021-22 school year, Aug. 23 through June 1, Cedar Rapids police reported 51 incidents across the six middle schools and 78 incidents at the four high schools. These incidents included things such as a loaded weapon found on school grounds, multiple assaults and incidents of harassment, sexual abuse investigations, sexting and school threats where someone has suggested they’d harm themselves or others.
Meanwhile, the district reported 33 calls to school resource officers at Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools. Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker has said that data “doesn’t show a need” for officers based in middle schools.
Those 33 calls are ones that are funneled through a district policy that, in nonemergency situations where 911 does not need to be the first call, those requesting a school resource officer call Kooiker or a building executive director, who will then in turn call police officials to request a “floater.”
But police say the department relies on incident data that indicate when an officer responded to a school and took a police report that may or may not resulted in criminal charges or diversions. These figures are a snapshot of total calls for service, which may come from parents, a neighbor, school personnel or someone else.
Essentially, the school’s data reflects a smaller number of incidents as those are formal requests for school resource officer assistance following district procedures.
Total incidents are larger as the police department receives calls from multiple sources, and sometimes patrol officers respond to incidents at schools depending on the nature of a call.
Police, district reduce charges
In collaboration with the school district, the police department reduced criminal charges against students by increasing pre-charge diversions about 400 percent from previous school years.
Diversions can be done for incidents such as minor assaults, possession of minor amounts of alcohol or marijuana, criminal mischief and vaping. Only the school resource officers do diversions, while patrol officers cannot.
Diversions involve an initial meeting with administrators, students and the officer, followed by a meeting to brief the parents. Then, the student does an assignment such as writing a paper or receiving counseling. The incident is never sent to Juvenile Court Services and is documented internally with the police.
Police have said patrol officers don’t have the same ability and training that school officers do to address long-term behavioral issues commonly associated with school calls.
In responding to incidents, police Lt. Cory McGarvey said, school resource officers benefit from having an ongoing relationship with kids — knowing them, their families, and whether kids might face issues at home.
“We think those relationships are important enough that we are fighting to keep these relationships strong,” Capt. Brent Long said. “ … It’s not about money, it’s about the kids in our community and feeling safe in school.”
This trust-building helps prevent incidents, McGarvey said, ultimately reducing potential charges or harm. Students sometimes come to the officers, alert them when and where a fight might take place, and the police can prepare accordingly.
Fights are the most common incident avoided based on this intelligence, McGarvey said, but sometimes officers also learn about guns in schools this way.
“You can’t measure an instance that never happens because we were there at the right spot at the right time,” he said.
School board to ‘work through our process’
Correspondence requested by The Gazette shows Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell emailed school board President David Tominsky on June 23 expressing interest in charting a path forward.
“I believe it is imperative that the City and School District work together on this and many other critical issues,” O’Donnell wrote.
After the council’s June 14 meeting, Tominsky had told The Gazette “getting all the parties that are involved in this to the same table to have this discussion of the best way to prioritize schools safety is what we should be doing.”
But when he responded to O’Donnell on June 28, he said “at this time, I think it’s most appropriate for us to work through our process and ensure the Board receives the information they have requested to make a decision.”
In questions the school board had about the officer program, shared in board documents, some inquired about options for shifting resources toward other services such as mental health and restorative practices, whether similar resources might be available through the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and how it would work to do away with school resource officers, as Des Moines has done.
Documents show 35 questions about the program from board members, nine of them specifically for Cedar Rapids police.
Questions for Cedar Rapids police centered on whether they the officers were effective and trained to handle severe incidents.
One board member asked about the 51 calls police reported at middle schools versus the 33 that school resource officers responded to, and said, “this data would perhaps indicate SROs are less effective than regular CRPD officers?” The board documents discuss the differences in the police and district data.
The correspondence does not reveal which board members asked which questions. Police responses were written by McGarvey, Lt. Matt Welsh and Lt. Charlie Fields.
Board members asked questions about whether school resource officers were effective in general and in response to shootings.
Police wrote that the department follows the Integrated Response To Active Threat system that increases coordination and resource integration between law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel.
McGarvey and Long said they train for active shooters and have responded to such calls elsewhere, most recently the April shooting at the downtown Taboo Nightclub that killed two. The officers are also familiar with each school building’s layout and emergency protocols as they participate in drafting emergency plans, they said.
“You will not see us standing around waiting,” Long said.
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Cedar Rapids police reported they responded to 51 incidents across the six middle schools and 78 incidents at the four high schools between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the 2021-22 school year in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Here is a look at data provided by police:
Kennedy High School
30 incidents: 10 vaping (juvenile diversions); 2 sexual abuse investigations; 1 assault with dangerous weapon; 3 disorderly conduct (juvenile diversion); 1 drug paraphernalia; 2 thefts; 2 school threats; 1 underage use of tobacco/vape third offense; 1 underage use of tobacco/vape first offense; 1 drug paraphernalia; 1 hit and run; 1 disorderly conduct; 2 simple assaults; 2 assaults with injury.
Washington High School
15 incidents: 2 harassments/sexting; 1 sex abuse investigation; 3 simple assaults; 1 hit and run; 1 possessing alcohol under legal age (with diversion); 1 assault with injury; 1 disorderly conduct (with diversion); 1 theft; 1 possession of drug paraphernalia (with diversion); 1 disorderly conduct, 1 found property; 1 general information.
Jefferson High School
28 incidents: 3 sex abuse investigations; 1 sex crime unit referral; 6 disorderly conduct (with diversion); 1 runaway; 6 possessions of controlled substance (with diversion); 2 first-degree harassment; 1 hit and run; 1 simple assault; 1 school threat; 2 disorderly conduct; 1 theft; 1 assault with injury; 1 criminal mischief (with diversion); 1 assault on persons in specific occupation.
Metro High School
5 incidents: 3 possession of controlled substance; 1 use of force (non-arrest); 1 criminal mischief.
Franklin Middle School
8 Incidents: 2 simple assaults; 1 sexual abuse investigation; 1 assault with injury; 3 simple assaults; 1 found property; 2 thefts.
Harding Middle School
7 incidents: 2 school threats, 1 simple assault; 1 lost property; 1 runaway; 1 possession of controlled substance (marijuana/meth); 1 harassment (juvenile diversion).
McKinley STEAM Academy
16 incidents: 4 simple assaults; 3 school threats; 1 psych committal; 1 possession of controlled substance (diversion); 1 carry weapons; 2 assaults with injury; 1 intimidation with a dangerous weapon; 2 harassment; 1 general information.
Roosevelt Middle School
4 incidents: 2 assault with injury; 1 simple assault; 1 school threat.
Taft Middle School
2 incidents: 2 simple assaults.
Wilson Middle School
14 incidents: 1 sex abuse investigation; 4 simple assaults; 2 psych committal; 2 harassment cases; 2 general information; 1 school threat; 1 found property; 1 theft.