Basalt will seek grant to fund special cop to work in schools |

Basalt will seek grant to fund special cop to work in schools

A special cop will be working in Basalt’s schools for at least the next four years.

The Basalt Town Council gave its police department permission last night to apply for a federal grant for a “school resource officer.” If the grant is approved by the U.S. Justice Department, a full-time sworn officer will be assigned to the three Basalt schools during the academic year.

That officer, explained Basalt Police Sgt. Chris Maniscalchi, will play a variety of roles ranging from trying to earn kids’ trust as a counselor to helping teach and occasionally even making arrests.

It’s yet to be determined if the officer will wear a regular Basalt Police Department uniform to the classrooms.

The feds grant maximum awards for $125,000 for the school resource officer program for a three-year period. The federal government’s share of the salary and benefits package decreases each year and Basalt’s share would increase.

If selected, Basalt would have to commit full funding for at least a fourth year of the program, said Maniscalchi. Town Council members unanimously indicated it seemed only fair for the Roaring Fork School District to help pay for continuation of the program. They plan to seek a contribution from the school board at a joint meeting in August.

Council members approved the grant application despite a variety of reservations.

Councilman Steve Solomon, the harshest critic, said he couldn’t support putting an “armed asset” under the control of school administrators. Normally, the police are under supervision of the town manager, thus there is a degree of public accountability.

Putting the school resource officer under control of principals would remove direct accountability to the public and delegate responsibilities to people who may not be qualified, Solomon said.

Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she foresaw trouble with the dual roles of a school resource officer whose goal is to gain trust while occasionally busting students.

“There’s a kind of contradiction in that role,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s workable, really.”

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she would like to see the Basalt program modeled after Aspen’s. That means, among other things, that control of the cop stays with the police department, the special officer is an established member of the force and has special training to work with juveniles, and the officer’s emphasis is on youth programs.

Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens intervened in his board’s discussion to salvage approval for the grant application. He pressed the board and Maniscalchi to get the application in by Friday’s deadline, then work to tailor the program.

The board approved the grant application unanimously.

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