Carbondale may put police officer back in schools
CARBONDALE ” The town of Carbondale may reinstate its school resource officer, a special police officer assigned to the public schools, after a recent assault incident outside of school involving a group of teenagers.
“I think we have to step up to the plate on this,” Carbondale Trustee Ed Cortez said at a town board meeting this week. “If we’re going to talk about these problems and try to solve them, we have to start with the schools.”
This is the first time in a number of years that the Carbondale Police Department has not had a designated school resource officer (SRO), a program that began nearly a decade ago through a special grant.
“It was funded for the first three years by a federal grant, but we had to take it over after that,” police chief Gene Schilling said. The Roaring Fork School District also covered a portion of the SRO cost.
The officer who was in that position until last November went to part time, Schilling said. At the same time, the town instituted a hiring freeze as part of its 2009 budget cuts related to the economic downturn.
“We also felt like the school district wasn’t funding it to the level it needed to,” he said.
Of the approximately $80,000 cost for salary and benefits for the SRO, the school district was paying $15,000. It also picks up some of the cost for SROs in Basalt and Glenwood Springs schools.
Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker has asked the school district to pick up half the cost. However, the district also does not have the extra money in the budget to cover that amount, school district Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said. The matter will likely be given further discussion by the school board, however, she said.
Schilling said any interaction between the police department and the schools is a crucial part of the community policing approach the department employs. But the SRO is primarily a school position.
“About 75 percent of their job is done during the school year in the schools,” he said, adding that SROs maintain an office in one of the schools, usually a middle or high school, and are actively involved in the schools on a daily basis.
SROs teach classes with anti-drug and anti-gang messages. They also teach a junior police academy program, go on field trips with students, and attend as many after-school events as possible, Schilling said.
“It’s a good way to build a strong rapport between the police and the kids, and be able to mentor them so they don’t get into situations like this,” he said. “It’s also a way to identify the ones who could be headed for trouble and get them back on the right track.”
Seven teens, most of whom attended public schools in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, were charged with aggravated assault following a Jan. 29 incident in which two women were assaulted while walking along a public street in Carbondale around 8 p.m. that night. One of the youths attended school in Aspen, authorities said.
Four of the teens were expelled earlier this week from Roaring Fork schools. A fifth case was to be heard Thursday. The suspects also face the possibility of being tried as adults in the case.
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