The Antioch City Council voted to accept a $750,000 federal grant to help pay the salaries of six resource officers
East Bay Times
ANTIOCH, Calif. — If the school district lets it, the city of Antioch will send police officers to campuses once classrooms begin seeing students again.
The Antioch City Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to accept a $750,000 three-year federal grant to help pay the salaries of six resource officers assigned to the district’s middle and high schools. Council members Lamar Thorpe and Monica Wilson dissented.
The decision comes amid nationwide protests against police brutality and a call by critics to defund law enforcement.
Because of budget cuts, It’s been more than 10 years since resource officers walked on Antioch school grounds. But thanks to Measure C in 2013 and Measure W in 2018, police staffing levels have bounced back, Chief Tammany Brooks told the council.
Brooks said he had long hoped to bring back school resource officers and the recent U.S. The Department of Justice COPS Hiring Program grant provided an opportunity to do so.
“Since I have been chief, I’ve had residents asking me when I thought I was going to be able to put school resource officers back in the schools,” Brooks said.
The fatal shooting of student Jonathon Parker on Jan. 31 after a basketball game at Deer Valley High School further spurred him, Brooks added. At the time, some community members including Parker’s family asked for a law enforcement presence at schools, so the police department submitted an application, the chief said.
If approved, Brooks said the officers selected for school campuses would be tenured and their hours would be flexible enough to attend dances and sporting events.
“A lot of people have a misunderstanding of what an SRO does, thinking they are just armed guards present at the school, but this is far from the case,” Brooks said. “A large part of the SRO’s job is actually building positive relationships with the students and the faculty.”
Brooks said he had worked with Superintendent Stephanie Anello on a plan and she intends to ask the school board to consider a possible cost-sharing plan.
But most of the 100-plus people who spoke at the council meeting said they don’t want officers on school campuses.
“Schools need counselors, not officers,” Lawrence Miller said.
Sarah Laughlin, a 2015 Deer Valley High graduate, agreed.
“Extracurriculars are cut from our schools, sports teams are underfunded, buildings are crumbling, aides and counselors are being laid off, and teachers are severely underpaid in our district, but somehow the city can come up with $750,000 annually to hire multiple six-figure salary officers to patrol our schools.”
“I believe it is absolutely ridiculous for you to even think about funding more police into policing schools,” chimed in Haley Hastings, a 2018 Deer Valley High graduate. “If there’s anything I can tell you, it is that there are so many areas and resources that are lacking at that school. Textbooks are destroyed, sports teams are using 10-year-old uniforms, the theater is extremely unkempt.”
Aurora Solario, whose nephew was killed at Deer Valley High in January, said her family wants officers on campus, especially at after-school events.
“If the proper people had been there, maybe the outcome would be different for my nephew. We don’t want what happened to Jonathon to happen to another family,” she said.
Mayor Sean Wright said the community has been asking for school resource officer for at least five years.
“We see community policing as an opportunity to put officers on campus, not just for safety but to create those relationships,” he said.
But Councilman Thorpe said the message he’s received is don’t hire school officers.
“What I have heard is they do want youth programs, what I have heard is they want mental health specialists, what I have heard is they want opportunities to ensure our young people are being diverted onto the right path and out of trouble,” he said.
“As a parent, I have a different perspective, I don’t want my daughter going to a school where there are police officers,” he added. “I think school is for learning and education.”
Thorpe also pointed out the Antioch Unified School District recently cut $1.8 million from its budget.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock recalled her three children attending schools with resources officers, something she said she appreciated.
“They didn’t have a fear of the police officers because they had the relationships that the mayor just spoke about, and to me that is a big thing to create those relationships between the youth and the police officers.”
Councilwoman Wilson said students were looking for more counselors, not officers.
“It just doesn’t sit right with me to use officers in a role when we really could use counselors, mental health experts, trauma experts, I’d rather look at other solutions for that,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts said though she hoped for more time to consider the proposal, the handful of principals she reached out to all said they’re for having school resource officers.
If all six positions were filled, the initial cost to the city would be about $754,756 the first year, and more after that each year depending on raises. The funding could come from the school district or the city or a combination of both, as is done in nearby Brentwood and Concord.
Ogorchock motioned to accept the grant monies as long as the school district split the cost. The school board will take up the matter next, and if passed, the City Council will revisit it for final approval.
©2020 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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