City’s Public Safety Committee discusses modifications to SRO proposal

Public Safety Committee members Lynne Wright, left, and Chris Houlder

With the idea of a full-time armed school resource officer apparently off the table after the school board rejected an initial proposal for the officer in February, the city’s Public Safety Committee is looking to discuss other options to putting a $391,000 state grant to work for local young people.

The committee Thursday night discussed the possibility of another sort of officer, or some other human presence, being brought on board in lieu of an armed sworn police office.

“We still want to get benefit from that grant,”  Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers said at Wednesday night’s committee meeting. “How do we be more broad-based?”

The original proposal, turned down by a 4-1 Piedmont Unified School District board vote, was for an armed officer based full-time on campus, one who would be trained as a counselor and focused on student issues such as smoking, vaping, drinking, substance abuse, and social media use.

Committee member Amal Smith (who also serves on the Board of Education) said a survey showed that almost 80 percent of school students, parents, and staff didn’t favor the school resource officer position as originally proposed. “The board voted 4-1, so you can say that reflected the survey results,” said Smith, stressing that a key concern remains something inadvertently going wrong involving a firearm.

A modified proposal offered on March 13 would have the resource officer based at the police station and coming to campuses on an as-needed basis or to conduct workshops and classroom seminars.

“It seemed to me the biggest concern was having an armed officer on campus, and a fear of criminalizing behavior that wouldn’t be criminalized if our officer wasn’t on campus,” Bowers said.

As did Bowers, committee member Garrett Keating suggested the school resource officer could evolve into something more broad, perhaps serving young people outside the school structure. He, too, said he wants to leverage the state grant into something useful and satisfactory to the community at large. That, he and others said, could be someone who helps connect students with social services.

Thus on Thursday night, Public Safety Committee members said more changes could be proposed for that person’s role. Smith said she hopes further discussions with the school district can resume “relatively soon.”

Read our past reporting on this topic:

November: Hot Topic: School board discusses student resource officer

January: City council, parents weigh pros and cons of police officer on campus

February: School board rejects SRO proposal

March: School Board debates modifications to SRO proposal

2 thoughts on “City’s Public Safety Committee discusses modifications to SRO proposal

  1. Well, when there is free money, there is always a will to spend it. Why not just return the money to its originator, and have another school board in an area much in need of help with regard to security (such as Oakland) use it. Bernard Pech

    • I’m happy to hear that a broader view conversation on how to use the DJO grant money is taking place. I truly hope that evidence based research will be used to decide how best to build a structure that supports the mental well-begin of our children from the foundation up. Increasing police presence in our schools as a first step is like building a house starting with the roof.

      I also want to clarify that the concerns about having an armed officer on campus are not about fear of “something inadvertently going wrong involving a firearm” as stated in this article. The fear is based on evidence that the presence of an armed authority can cause a non-violent situation to become violent.

      There have been comments on this topic that make it sound like objecting to an SRO means that you mistrust or are “against” Chief Bowers and the police force. This is not the case. My objection to an SRO in no way reflects my opinion of the police force or chief. I simply believe that our kids will benefit more from a broad approach that comes from evidence based research.

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