116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — While the Cedar Rapids school board has delayed its vote on having police officers in the school, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously backed the program — fearing it’s a matter of when, not if, an incident will occur that jeopardizes the safety of Cedar Rapids school children.
The agreement endorsed by the council calls for seven resource officers in the schools, including two stationed at middle schools.
Council members authorized the city manager to negotiate a new agreement with the school district maintaining a police presence in the 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 council decision came a day after the school board, in a 6-1 vote, delayed a decision on the school resource officer agreement, saying they wanted more discussion and data.
The agreement advanced by the nine-member city council would keep officers permanently stationed in McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School, where police responded to a higher number of incidents this past school year.
“We must be a city that says we will do everything in our power that we know works to prevent these bad people from being successful,” said Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, whose children and husband graduated from Cedar Rapids schools. “There is no margin of error for us. These are our kids.
“If we were ever going to be accused of overprotecting, overspending, wouldn’t we do it for our kids?”
District, city split on middle schools
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 has been a point of contention.
Police are advocating for the return of officers to McKinley and Wilson middle schools, with the ability to move to other middle schools if needed.
The current agreement, as amended in the fall, removed officers from McKinley and Roosevelt this past school year, and the two officers were on call to all Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools.
The school district is proposing to remove the “floater officers” next year or have the two “responders” stationed at the police department instead of in school buildings. School board members are scheduling a meeting before their July 11 meeting to further discuss the issue.
Police and city officials will “gladly” be part of that discussion, police Lt. Cory McGarvey told the council Tuesday.
School board president David Tominsky said Tuesday, after the council meeting, that the city and school district both see school safety as a top priority.
“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,” he said.
Olson: Numbers show need
Council member Tyler Olson on Tuesday pressed McGarvey to shed light on the nature of incidents police respond to within the school district.
Olson highlighted police department data showing there were 70 police calls for service at McKinley during the 2021-22 school year without an officer stationed at the middle schools — up from 16 in 2018-19, the last fully in-person year with an officer stationed at the school.
About 13 middle school students were arrested during the 2021-22 school year — nine Black students and four white students -- a decrease from about 25 students arrested during 2018-19.
McGarvey said the arrests were for assault, weapons, including discovery of a loaded gun, and school threats and harassment — “significant issues” that go beyond pushing and shoving in the hallways. He said threats may entail someone threatening to shoot up a school or harm someone else.
“When I look at those numbers, I really think the need jumps out there,” Olson said, adding this was key context behind the district’s data showing racial disparities in students’ arrests.
Putting officers back in middle schools would “provide some extra service where I think we could have some schools that benefit and a learning environment that could benefit,” Olson said.
The police department touted success in the 2021-22 academic year with reducing the number of arrests by 82 percent in the high schools and 50 percent in middle schools.
As part of efforts to reduce racial disparities, McGarvey said there was an 87 percent reduction in the arrests of African American students in high schools and a 75 percent reduction for white students. Middle school arrests decreased by 50 percent, he said.
School resource officers and school staff also collaboratively increased diversions by 400 percent in the 2021-22 academic year from previous years.
During the 2021-22 school year, the district called school resource officers 33 times at Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools, leading Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker to say that data “doesn’t show a need” for officers based in middle schools.
Todd: Front-line support
Council member Dale Todd, chairman of the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services committee, said data and calls for service can be manipulated to tell a certain story.
But he said people on the front lines in the schools, such as school board member Marcy Roundtree, who was a community engagement advocate at Washington High School before joining the school board last year, often support school resource officers.
Flare-ups that start in a cafeteria play out in city streets and vice versa, Todd said. Keeping police officers in schools is “common sense,” he added, and just one piece of the city’s overall strategy to reduce gun violence.
“Those SROs know who these kids are in the school,” Todd said. “They know the dynamics of what’s playing out in that family or that extended family. When an event happens, I want to have somebody in that cafeteria or in that gym who knows who’s who and who belongs there.”
O’Donnell said the council must do everything possible to protect children.
“June 14, 2022 … is different from May 23, which is the day before Uvalde,” O’Donnell said. “Today is also different from April 9, which was the day before our city’s first mass shooting, or Dec. 16 was the day before a loaded gun was pulled from a backpack at our school at McKinley. I wish we lived in a bubble — the one that says bad things don’t happen in Cedar Rapids.”
Council member Ann Poe said she has grandchildren in Cedar Rapids schools and that any parent with children in school must be “scared” given the availability of assault weapons and handguns around the nation. Threats must be taken seriously, she said.
“It’s not if, folks,” Poe said. “It’s a matter of when. We need those seven officers on both sides of our Cedar River … We cannot lose one more child. Not one more. They’re not expendable.”
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