Two Iowa school districts say resource officers could be valuable for Iowa City

BY STACEY MURRAY | MAY 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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Roughly one week after the Iowa City School District started discussing the potential implementation of resource officers, two Iowa school districts say resource officers have had positive effects in their schools.

“We have very much enjoyed having them in schools,” said Peggy Vint, superintendent of the Bondurant-Farrar School District. “I have found that the officers are trained to listen to students. They sometimes serve almost as a building principal or guidance councilor.”

The Iowa City City Council voted Tuesday to apply for a grant to fund the officers’ implementation with a 6-1 vote. Discussion will resume at the May 21 School Board meeting alongside a vote to continue the application.

“In the past, our community has rejected uniformed or armed officers, so it’ll be an interesting discussion,” board member Sarah Swisher said.

At the City Council meeting, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine recommended supporting the officers and said the department would be able to get involved with the district.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton, the only opposition vote, said he wasn’t convinced resource officers were the best option.

At the May 7 School Board meeting, parent Julie Van Dyke voiced her disproval of the measure as the board discussed it, saying she didn’t think officers in schools would be beneficial for the district.

But one resource officer said this outcry, though understandable, will subside, as it did for the Clinton School District.

“There were some ‘Oh my’ kind of issues,” said Pat Cullen, a resource officer with the Clinton School District. “But once our officers began getting in the classroom and working with administrators, the public thought differently.”

Vint said her district hasn’t had the criticism from some parents the Iowa City School District has faced.

“We’ve had the reverse,” she said. “With the previous officer, he would get called at night [from parents] looking for assistance and asking about how the parents could help their child.”

Currently, the department is involved with the outlining of emergency plans, but Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said the possible collaboration was still “up in the air.”

Lalla said if the district implemented resource officers, the officers would likely be from the current department, and the city would then replace the newly vacant position with additional officers.

The officer moved to serve the district would undergo additional training for the special assignment.

“The school-resource officer would wear a lot of different hats for any number of different things that might come up,” Lalla said. “Mostly, they’re a liaison between the department and the School District.”

She said the officers would not only be utilized in safety-breach situations but also in more moderate arenas, such as issues with traffic flow. The proximity to the officers would also allow for students to develop relationships with the them.

“The kids would have an opportunity to get to know an officer under circumstances that aren’t distressful or frightening for a child,” she said.

While some districts have seen outcry from resource officers, Cullen said they are a valuable resource for districts.

“I’m a strong believer of police officers in schools,” he said. “I think it’s a great addition to our school districts statewide. It’s a huge prevention of violence.”

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