School resource officers to be removed

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks School Resource Officer Tim Marshall will return to patrol duty when the SRO program is ended, according to Clovis Police Chief Dan Blair. Blair said the department doesn’t have the personnel to dedicate officers to the schools.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Beginning next school year, the Clovis Police Department will withdraw its school resource officers from Clovis schools due to staffing issues, according to Chief Dan Blair.

Blair said he recently withdrew from a U.S. Department of Justice grant program, which required the department to task four dedicated officers, because he couldn’t meet the grant requirements.

“I don’t like getting rid of positions,” Blair said. “That was a very difficult decision.”

Blair said that a lot of time and thought was put into the decision, but the bottom line was, “We could not fulfill the requirements of the grant by keeping the officers in the schools fulltime.”

The department will appoint one officer as a school liaison officer and the other three officers will return to the streets to cover shortages, he said.
“We still have the ability to respond whenever we’re needed,” Blair said.

Police plan to work with the schools to streamline protocol for service “to determine when they should call us and what they can handle within,” he added.

Officer presence at the schools has already begun to taper off because the department’s first priority is to respond to calls for service in the community, Blair said.

The schools are beginning to adapt to the absences.

“The resource officers are really valuable to us,” said Clovis Municipal Schools District Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

While the schools consider it a great loss, she said they understand the reasons behind the withdrawal.

“(Chief Blair) explained to me that it’s not a funding issue, it’s really a manpower issue,” she said.

Officers, through consistent presence at the schools, get to know students and build a rapport with them. That relationship, Seidenwurm said, enables them to head problems off early.

“One of the reasons that SROs work well is they can be in situations where they really get to know the kids, and then often kids will tell them things they normally wouldn’t tell because they know them,” Seidenwurm said.

Blair said application for the SRO program was made in 2002. The program reached full strength in 2006, when four officers were given dedicated assignments to Clovis’ secondary schools and answered calls at primary schools as needed.

The Clovis Police Department began experiencing staffing shortages in the last year, with a current lack of more than half a dozen officers, and also is experiencing recruiting issues, Blair said.

The schools may consider private security officers, Seidenwurm said, but the logistics of hiring, training and the role they would play still needs to be explored.

The schools would gladly pitch in to keep the SROs if it were a funding issue, Seidenwurm said.

“As a school district, we would be willing to share cost if needed, if they can get the resource officers,” she said.