TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - With a renewed laser focus on law enforcement these days, a program designed to make schools safer is now getting a second look.
The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is discussing whether to keep School Resource Officers (SROs) on campuses or to spend that money on mental health services.
No decision was made at Tuesday night’s TUSD School Board meeting, but police, parents and teachers weighed in.
“The officers act as mentors, as guardians, as coaches,” said Assistant Chief Kevin Hall with the Tucson Police Department (TPD).
“I do get frustrated when I see important policing efforts get sort of caught up in this tidal wave of ‘Throw everything out’,” said TPD Police Chief Chris Magnus.
Hall says arresting students has been disincentivized, pointing to an initiative that addresses nonviolent behaviors in schools. Instead of charging students with misdemeanor offenses, they are enrolled in a program.
“This program allows the SROs and school staff to take action to ensure that it’s a safe environment for all the students and staff, while at the same time developing a positive relationship with the student,” he said.
A few parents sent letters to the district saying budget dollars would be better spent elsewhere.
“We should invest that money into funding full-time social workers and psychologists at every school,” wrote one parent. “The way we keep our schools safe is to address the root cause of our student’s behavioral concerns, and work to help our students and their families receive the appropriate services.”
“Please reallocate funding towards retraining school monitors for our children’s safety,” wrote another parent. “We do not need police officers in full uniform, or in full armed gear, patrolling our children’s educational grounds. Please, I beg of you! My son needs to be around people who will guide him and monitor him in any way that will builds him up and eliminates the fear that he already has growing inside of him from recent and past events occurring in our nation.”
For Charline Spires, a mother of four children in public schools ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8, SROs provide a sense of security.
“There has been a lot more gun violence,” she said. “I honestly prefer that a school resource officer is at the school because they are more trained in case an emergency does happen.”
Carlos Rodriquez, a father of two high schoolers, says SROs are necessary. However, he says their presence can be intimidating.
“If they were just hanging out undercover that would be [more helpful],” Rodriguez said.
Ultimately, it is a decision TUSD board will have to make. Board members will vote on whether to keep SROs in schools at an upcoming meeting, however, the date of that meeting has not been announced yet.