Sunday, August 14, 2022

Sheriff responds to K-M letter on SRO position

We’ve had a number of inquiries from parents in the KM district asking about School Resource Program. These questions are in response to the district’s posting for a school security officer and a letter sent to parents this week about their intentions.

It’s important to note there are distinct differences between an unlicensed security officer working in our schools and a licensed School Resource Officer who has been selected and specially trained to serve in an educational environment in our schools. Here are just a few benefits a licensed School Resource Officer provides to the school district:

Immediate/On-site response to violent, unstable, or suspicious incidents or circumstances ON school grounds. A licensed SRO has constant radio communication with our 911 Dispatch Center. A security officer will not have a portable connected to our dispatch. A private security officer has no arrest powers and will have to call local law enforcement to respond just as any other citizen would.

Immediate/On-site response to violent, unstable, or suspicious incidents or circumstances occurring OFF school grounds and the safety and security of school students and staff is or may become compromised. A licensed SRO has constant radio communication with our 911 Dispatch Center. A security officer will not have a portable connected to our dispatch. A private security officer will have to call local law enforcement to respond just as any other citizen would.

Communicates DIRECTLY and IMMEDIATELY with their agency’s administration and school administration to coordinate a plan of action during a crisis in the community. This communication was necessary on two occasions within one month this past school year in one of our communities where law enforcement incidents occurred near the school towards the end of the school day. This information will not be available to a private security officer.

A 24/7 resource for school administration to communicate with regarding issues involving the school and or students. Questions and Problems do not always come up during school hours and the schools often reached out to their SRO on weekends and after hours due to questions, problems, or concerns about the school and or its students. This is crucial to ensuring a safe environment for students and staff. A licensed law enforcement officer serving as an SRO will have all this data available through their agency and investigators — information not available to private security officers.

If you have a student death outside of school hours and off school property, Law Enforcement Investigations will immediately contact the SRO who will initiate the school’s emergency action plan. (This data is private and cannot be shared with a security officer) The SRO takes a huge burden off of Investigations and School Administration in helping facilitate these tragic losses.

Continuously building relationships with students of all grade levels throughout the school year as well as during the summer. Building these relationships during and after the school year provide the students the sense of security and trust they need to feel comfortable talking with the School Resource Officer about a variety of issues. Sometimes these issues are very sensitive topics. This security and trust have often been important enough to some students that after they have graduated and moved on in life they have reached out to their SRO when facing problems as an adult.

Along with relationship building comes an in-depth knowledge of the student and their back ground including family dynamics. There are times a struggling student may be experiencing problems at home or in an out of school relationship. An officer who is aware of these issues, by reviewing calls for service, may have the ability to make available the proper help or services to assist the student. This is protected data only available to a licensed law enforcement officer serving as an SRO.

A resource for parents when questions or concerns may arise surrounding their child. In the past parents have reached out for a variety of issues including an increase in behaviors both at home or at school as well is concerns about suspected drug use and the steps that can be taken to provide help for the individual. Most of this information is only going to be available from a licensed law enforcement officer.

A resource for fellow officers while conducting investigations involving a student or former student. An example of this is during a case of a juvenile runaway occurring outside of school hours. When taking these reports, the number one concern of Law Enforcement is locating the juvenile quickly and returning them safely. The School Resource Officer may often have knowledge of who the juvenile associates with at school, as well as outside of school, providing additional locations for officers to check. Law enforcement will not use a private security officer in this capacity due to safety and public data restrictions.

Educates students on a wide variety of topics through classroom instruction. Teachers often request the officer to come speak on topics they are studying in class which have ranged from discussions about Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Search and Seizure, to Forensics. The students enjoy learning about these topics from an individual who has actually been involved in these processes through their first-hand accounts. The details of these accounts are always limited and age appropriate. This info is only going to come from a current licensed law enforcement officer who is up-to-date on current training and trends.

As you can see, there is a definite theme here. SROs contribute by ensuring a safe and secure campus, educating students about law-related topics, and mentoring students as informal advisers and role models. As part of their role as informal advisers, SROs maintain open-door policies toward students and school staff, engage in mentoring sessions, and refer students or educators to social services, legal aid, community services, and public health agencies.

In addition to their primary responsibility of maintaining safety at our schools, licensed School Resource Officers are required to go through extensive current training to maintain their license including ongoing training on Autism, Crisis Intervention, Conflict Management, Cultural Diversity, and Implicit Bias. Also extensive training on Juvenile Law. This extensive training adequately equips these professionals to work in a school setting and specifically with children, adolescents, and those with special needs. Again, this training is ongoing and SRO’s are required to participate in education on these topics as issues change and evolve. All training only available to licensed law enforcement officers — not private security.

As I mentioned, we’ve also received a number of questions and concerns from the public about a job posted by the KM School District for what they call a School Resource and Relationship Officer.

There were a number of details listed in that job posting that are concerning to law enforcement. Here are a few examples listed in the job description:

Coordinating with law enforcement agencies about offenses involving KM Students — law enforcement cannot provide any private data regarding juveniles to private security officers.

When practical, assist in diverting problem youth from the juvenile justice system prior to charges being filed — this statement is problematic and has been a concern brought up by parents to law enforcement when issues with students that should be addressed by law enforcement aren’t reported by school administration. School Administration does not have legal authority to determine what is and what isn’t a reportable crime — only a licensed law enforcement officer has that legal ability.

Initial investigation of school-related crimes or any other criminal/welfare issues involving students from the K-M Schools in cooperation with Building Administrators — same problem here. This is something that should be vetted and handled by law enforcement — not school administration.

Assist local, county, and state law enforcement agencies with conducting formal police interviews, interrogations, and arrests of students on school property when such cases require expedited involvement such as assault, terroristic threats, and offenses deemed as an active public safety issue, whereas the individual, the public and or the school is in danger by not quickly intervening. — Private security has no legal authority to assist law enforcement in this manner. Local law enforcement cannot use private security to assist with these issues.

These outside agencies should collaborate with the School Resource and Relationship Officer prior to these situations in order to enable school personnel awareness. — Law Enforcement’s responsibility is the safety of students and staff, as well as the safety of the accused and the victims. Law Enforcement cannot collaborate with private security officers in this manner and can not always provide school administration with this information due to data privacy laws.

One concern brought up by KM Administration is the SRO answering to their respective agency Sergeant or Chief and not the School Superintendent. While trained SRO’s will always coordinate with School Administration when its appropriate, licensed SRO’s answer to their supervisors at their respective agencies, the agencies that hold their license. SRO’s should never be required to answer to School Administration.

This prevents any bias in reporting incidents involving students or staff motivated by the desire to influence and control the narrative and reputation of the school district.

In a letter sent out to parents on June 8th, KM School Superintendent Mark Matuska states that their moving to a School Security Officer mimics what other districts are doing. I have yet to find a county in SE MN that have schools with private security employed by the district.

The letter continues explaining that I was asked about the Sheriff’s Office providing SRO services to KM Schools and that I declined. That is true. However, my first concern that wasn’t shared was that most school districts have SRO’s provided by their respective law enforcement agencies — in KM’s case that would be the Kasson Police Department. Most grant funding will require this as well. It would be unethical for me to attempt to negotiate and bid against the agency responsible for the jurisdiction the school resides in — unless that local agency chose to discontinue their SRO services. KPD has provided trained SRO’s for years at KM and already are budgeted for that staffing. They have provided quality officers in this capacity. SRO Jesse Kasel is a great cop, works great with kids, and is part of the community with kids of his own in this school district. He has a vested interest in our kids’ safety and coordinates with our DCSO SRO with juvenile concerns, legal issues, training, etc. Due to data privacy, this type of cooperation will not happen with an unlicensed security officer. (This will not happen with a private security officer) My second concern, which was shared, is staffing. Minnesota has spent the last several years demonizing our law enforcement — enough to the point where recently around 100 agencies across the state are looking for licensed officers.

More cops have retired early or decided to change careers then we’ve ever seen. Staffing is a huge issue with law enforcement, an issue that we will be dealing with for years to come. Budgets are also a concern. Essentially, KM Schools expressed interest in contracting with us at a lesser rate than they’ve been paying KPD, with the county paying the difference in salary and benefits — a hard sell at best with our County Board and tax payers when the school already has an established program with KPD.

The letter also explains the working relationship we have with both the Hayfield and Triton School Districts and the difference in our rates compared to KPD. We have provided a part-time SRO program for these two districts for over 20 years. Initially, KM Schools was part of this program with the county. At that time, Kasson PD chose not to participate due to staffing and the county provided the SRO. The Kasson School District eventually decided that they wanted their own full-time SRO and acquired a grant to fund it — this grant required the school to work with agency serving their local jurisdiction, the Kasson Police Department. Hayfield and Triton continued to work with DCSO and have shared our SRO between both districts ever since. Their SRO is also available to us if we need him to respond to emergencies outside of school, on off days, snow days, etc. This flexibility combined with our long-standing working relationship has helped keep our rates low for them. They are also much smaller districts than KM. Triton serves around 1000 students in their district. Hayfield serves around 700 students. The Kasson Mantorville School District serves over 2000 students, considerably more than both schools combined. Bigger school populations typically equate to a much higher work load for the SRO. While I understand KM Administration questioning the difference in the rate Hayfield and Triton pay DCSO versus the rate they are paying Kasson PD, KPD certainly isn’t out of line with their rate. The Byron School District, which is very comparable in size to KM, is paying just over

$74,000 for their full time Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office SRO for 2023.

The letter states the goal is to provide the same, if not better services to their student body. With the information I’ve shared here, I find it that a difficult goal to accomplish.

The letter states the school district is looking for a licensed officer, however that is not possible with this person being a full-time employee of the district and not a law enforcement agency.

It talks about this newly hired school employee collaborating with the police department and sheriff’s office

— however we’ve already explained why in most cases this is not possible.

Finally, the letter states the decision is not about reducing law enforcement, it is about growing it better between our school district and meeting the relationship and mental health needs of their students. The reality is, with this decision, they will be eliminating law enforcement in their school district. Law enforcement with current and continuing education on how to best handle mental health challenges with kids.

District leaders indicate this decision is also due to budget constraints, that they will save money hiring their own security. They are proposing a salary of $50,000 per year. County employee benefits for full-time employees cost approximately $20,000 depending on insurance and number of dependents. A deputy for the county, making $57,000 a year, costs the county over $81,000 with benefits. This does not include equipment, uniforms, insurance, etc. The agency also provides the SRO an agency issued squad car equipped with everything necessary to respond emergent to incidents. (A security vehicle cannot respond emergent and has to obey all traffic laws as a private citizen) It also doesn’t include ongoing training. While I’m not sure there will be any savings with a district security officer, it will allow more control by administration which seems to be the underlying goal.

If you are interested in hearing the benefits of an SRO program from another education administrators’ point of view, I would suggest talking to Triton Superintendent Craig Schlichting and Hayfield Superintendent Greg Slaathaug. They have been amazing to work with over the years and recognize the benefits of having an SRO program goes far beyond school security. These two have shown incredible leadership in these two districts and recognize that today, especially with the recent mass shootings in schools across our country, it’s more important now than ever to have trained law enforcement professionals providing SRO services to our schools. Our kids deserve a safe school environment to learn and grow.

On May 24, 19 children and two adults were killed and 16 injured in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest school shooting since 2012, when a gunman shot and killed 26 people as young as 6 years old at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Our country has experienced numerous tragic school shootings like Newtown Connecticut, Parkland Florida, and Santa Fe Texas. This has ramped up the discussion about the presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) and other law enforcement personnel in our schools and has become a prominent national policy issue.

While I believe their intentions are genuine, I respectfully disagree with the direction the KM School District is considering, and hope they will reconsider their position.

Your Sheriff,
Scott

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