116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After the Cedar Rapids school board signed off on an agreement to reduce the number of police in schools from seven to five, members of the Cedar Rapids City Council — which unanimously backed a contract for seven officers — made their discontent with the move clear but will accept the change.
But as the Cedar Rapids Police Department has proposed minor amendments to the contract to reflect the work a shrinking number of officers in schools can handle, city and school district staff are ironing out an administrative agreement reflecting these changes with the start of the school year fast approaching.
“I'll admit it felt at times we were having a conversation with ourselves but have been more than willing, and I think successful, in working with the school board,” Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said Tuesday. “It seems to me that the horse has left the barn, as they say, in terms of having five SROs ... that's the best we could do as a council. And I appreciate the willingness to have that conversation and negotiate in good faith.”
O’Donnell had offered to school board President David Tominsky that the city would pick up the tab of two officers to maintain a presence in middle schools. Tominsky declined.
The school board approved a contract last month for the school resource officer program, which includes five officers total stationed at Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative school. The vote removed two floater officers that served K-12 students in the 2021-22 school year.
For fiscal 2023, the budget year that ends June 30, 2023, the cost of each officer position is $139,279. The price tag for the five officers is $696,395, split evenly between the city and the district.
O’Donnell asked if the program risked falling back on some progress made in the past year with reducing racial disparities in arrests, reducing arrests overall and increasing diversions instead of filing criminal charges.
“Yes, that's our assumption that because a school would not have a SRO or an officer trained in diversion, arrests are going to occur more frequently, which will increase those numbers and the number of diversions will decrease and go down,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman said.
In the last school year, he said 54 students were in the diversion program — an increase of 400 percent over previous years. Jerman said other options are used in lieu of charges, such as referrals to other supportive services.
Overall, there was an 81 percent reduction in charges for all high school students, an 84 percent reduction for Black students and 73 percent reduction in charges for white students. Compared with academic years before the COVID-19 pandemic, middle schools saw a 50 percent drop in charges.
Council member Dale Todd, chair of the Public Safety and Youth Services committee, said the Cedar Rapids school resource officer program seemed to be a model of a program.
“You decreased arrest among African Americans, you're sending people through diversion, you're doing all the right things that we've all been talking about doing for years,” Todd said. “And you've got that framework in place and you tweaked it last year in conjunction with the school district. I mean, what else do we do other than see more kids getting caught up in what's happening out there on the streets?”
Local activist and businesswoman Sophia Joseph said it was inappropriate for the police department, which is contracting with the school district for a service, to bring forward a contract to the school board. She also shot back at the council for suggesting the reduction in officers would lead to more arrests of students.
“When you're saying those words, are we hearing what we're saying?” Joseph said. “That it's OK to just send officers that don't know what they're doing with children?”
To reflect the workload five officers can manage, the main amendments Cedar Rapids police proposed would require that any changes to a school resource officer’s regular assignment at the five schools to support needs at other schools must occur “with the approval of the SRO supervisor” — either Jerman or Lts. Cory McGarvey or Matt Welsh.
The other change would clarify they are required only to do lockdown and “run, hide, fight” trainings at schools staffed with a school resource officer instead of at all schools. Jerman said the district since 2020 has not filled a staff position that used to run those trainings at the schools.
The council is slated to approve the school board-backed school resource officer contract and memorandum of understanding in a special session that has yet to be scheduled.
Grace King of The Gazette contributed to this report
Comments: (319) 398-8494; firstname.lastname@example.org