116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / Local Government
Reduction to 5 school resource officers final with Cedar Rapids City Council vote
Agreement removing 2 officers takes effect retroactive to July 1 with school year underway
CEDAR RAPIDS — With the 2022-23 school year already underway, the Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday gave a final OK to the contract reducing the number of police in schools from seven to five as approved by the school board earlier this summer.
The nine-member council’s vote on the agreement for school resource officers in Cedar Rapids schools ends a monthslong debate between city and school district officials over the extent to which police should be stationed in the students’ learning spaces, with their presence in middle schools being the main point of contention.
The agreement is effective retroactive to July 1 and ends June 30, 2023.
In a 5-2 vote, the seven-member 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.
Several members of the Cedar Rapids City Council have made their discontent with the move clear. The council in June unanimously backed a contract for seven officers, keeping one each stationed in McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School where police said the highest number of incidents occur.
But Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell has suggested city officials had done all they could to try to maintain the presence of school resource officers in middle schools. She had offered to school board President David Tominsky that the city would pick up the tab of the two officers the board voted to eliminate, with the ability to move elsewhere as needed. Tominsky declined.
“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,” O’Donnell said Aug. 9.
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.
The agreement was approved with minor changes proposed by the Cedar Rapids Police Department that reflect the work a smaller number of officers in schools can handle.
The main amendments Cedar Rapids police proposed 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 Police Chief Wayne Jerman or Lts. Cory McGarvey or Matt Welsh.
The other key change clarifies the officers 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 has said the district since 2020 has not filled a staff position that used to run those trainings at the schools.
Jenny Schulz, executive director of Kids First Law Center, on Tuesday took issue with Jerman’s statement at the last council meeting that it was the police department’s “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.”
Schulz invited the council to use a portion of the money saved on the two officer positions to ensure that all police officers are trained in working with children, as police respond to calls involving kids every day. The cost of those two officers would have been about $280,000 for the city to pay in full.
“When all police have been trained to work with children … they understand that arresting kids is not the answer,” Schulz said. “Diversions naturally flow from proper training. With proper training, there is no reason for arrests to go up. Police officers deserve to have this training to work with children, and our officers and our community deserve nothing less.”
Jerman told The Gazette critics of school resource officers miss the point that it’s about more than just training. He said officers are already trained to work with adolescents, juvenile delinquents and issues that affect children.
Implementing a diversion program, or addressing an incident that otherwise could be charged criminally, involves knowing the students, school staff, victims and student’s family, Jerman said.
Most importantly, he said diversions take time a patrol officer lacks. It could take an hour or several hours, and patrol officers are assigned to 10-hour shifts.
In the last school year, Jerman previously said 54 students were in the diversion program — an increase of 400 percent over previous years. Other options are used in lieu of charges, such as referrals to other supportive services.
That’s why the city and police department advocated for keeping school resource officers there, as they are uniquely trained and have time to work with students and school officials.
Plus, Cedar Rapids police and school district officials had made strides toward increasing diversions and reducing arrests of all students — especially racial disparities in arrests of students of color. Some city officials have expressed worries that progress could be reversed with fewer school resource officers.
“A patrol officer will more than likely be the officer who responds to the call, and a patrol officer doesn’t have the luxury or the time to dedicate to administer the diversion program because of pending calls for service or other needs within the city,” Jerman said. “… They’re responsible for areas of the city and they’re expected to handle a call and get back into service.”
Comments: (319) 398-8494; firstname.lastname@example.org