As wait continues to word on grant application, some say School Resource Officer is necessary even if grant is denied and position has to be funded entirely with local money

    As the wait continues for word on the fate of the City of Crookston’s application for a federal COPS grant that, if awarded, would provide funding assistance for the return of a School Resource Officer in Crookston Public Schools, momentum seems to be building to try to find a way to fund the position locally, even if the Department of Justice denies the grant application.

    When CPD Chief Paul Biermaier submitted the grant application, he figured word would come in October. Now, he’s been told by the DOJ that Crookston will hopefully hear one way or another by the end of November. With the Crookston City Council having to certify its final 2018 budget and property tax levy before Dec. 31, a semi-stressful holding pattern continues, as City and Crookston School District leaders wonder if they’ll have to provide local dollars to cover the portion of the SRO position not covered by the COPS grant, or if they’ll have to comb through their budgets to see if they can scrape up enough money to potentially fund the position entirely on their own.

    Crookston has a history with SROs in the schools. Biermaier himself was one many years ago, as was current Ward 3 City Council Member Clayton Briggs, who retired a few years ago after many years with the CPD. Everyone agrees that the benefits of employing an SRO to work in the schools and community spread far and wide, from providing a rapid response when serious situations arise, to building positive relationships with students, teachers and families, to simply providing a certain presence in the schools that makes everyone feel a bit safer and more secure.

    But at Monday’s council meeting and Ways & Means Committee meeting that followed – both of which were attended by CHS Principal Eric Bubna and Highland School Principal Chris Trostad – a theme seemed to emerge that indicated the local public schools, and maybe the high school more than the elementary schools, could really use an SRO on staff at this particular time.

    Marcia Meine, a grandmother to kids ranging from babies to teens and also a Foster Grandparent at Highland, said at the council meeting that an SRO would especially be a positive resource for junior high kids when they move on to the high school from Highland. “I’ve known these kids for years and they’re wonderful,” Meine said. “But a lot of them have a tough home life and if we can make their life better for that seven-hour period that we have them, let’s do it. I think a School Resource Officer would be a way to make a child feel more at ease when they make that transition to the high school.”

    Later Monday evening, at the council’s Ways & Means Committee meeting, Meine was more direct in her pleas for an SRO at CHS. “Grant or no grant, you can’t just sit on this,” she said. “My grandkids, from what they’ve told me is going on at the high school, it’s scary.”

    Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson sort of echoed those sentiments, saying he’s been somewhat surprised by the number of teachers and parents in recent weeks who have told him an SRO is greatly needed. “It’s just a huge topic with them,” Erickson said. “When you have teachers saying, ‘We really need this up here,’ I think we really need to take a hard look at it and, one way or another, get it done.”

    If awarded the DOJ COPS grant would involve a four-year program. The first year, local funds would have to cover 25 percent of the position’s salary and benefits. The split would be 50/50 in the second year, and in the third year local funds would have to cover 75 percent of the position’s cost. In the fourth year, local funds, presumably from the City, school district and any other local partners, would have to fund the entire position. If the grant is awarded, Biermaier said the plan would be to hire an experienced officer currently on the CPD staff to serve as the SRO, and then hire a new officer to replace the SRO on the CPD’s patrol units. During the summer when school is not in session, Biermaier said the SRO would still be valuable in various community, school and family outreach efforts and could help coordinate various community events.

    Biermaier, City Administrator Shannon Stassen and Mayor Wayne Melbye encouraged everyone to try to be patient just a little longer for word from the DOJ on the grant application. If local partners come out now and say they’re going to fund an SRO position entirely on their own, Stassen said, the grant application will most certainly be denied. As it stands now, the City and school district appear poised to join forces to provide the necessarily local funding to pair with COPS grant dollars, but if the grant application is denied, both entities and potentially other local partners are going to have to sift through their budgets to see if funding an SRO with all local dollars is even financially feasible.

    Bubna, who said previously that CPD officers try to pop into the high school daily to simply provide a safety presence and a friendly face from law enforcement, said Monday he’s in full support of the return of an SRO to the local public schools. “It’s a huge asset to the schools,” he said. “There are specific things we think it would help with, but overall, it’s just the presence and the impact on the school culture. It’s just different with an officer around, in a very positive way.”

    Trostad agreed.

    “It creates a different climate, and the officer builds relationships with kids at younger ages,” he said. “The kids enjoy seeing officers in the schools.”