Do we need LPD in schools?

By Andy Balaskovitz
Sexton High School

Absolutely, Bernero says. Council member Jody Washington disagrees.

Thursday, April 25 — First Ward City Councilwoman Jody Washington and Mayor Virg Bernero are at odds over whether Lansing police officers should be in the city’s three high schools for security measures.

Washington made it clear during a recent budget hearing that she thinks LPD should not be there because the district already has deputized security guards. She wonders if there’s a way to save money by not having them there and suggests officers are better off patrolling the city at large.

“We don’t need full-time officers in the schools,” Washington said Thursday. “They have security guards fully deputized. Our Police Department is a phone call away.

“Certainly they can stop in and make a presence,” she added. “But I think it’s a waste of resources, especially since the school district doesn’t reimburse the city.”

Moreover, Washington said, “It just perpetuates the reputation our school district has of being ghetto and unsafe.”

Bernero strongly disagrees, saying an LPD school resource officer’s presence at Sexton, Eastern and Everett high schools is proactive, particularly in a “post-Columbine” culture. He’d like to have them in middle schools as well. And it’s not just for security, he said, but “building relationships with students.”

“This is something where we were ahead of the game,” Bernero said about making the controversial decision in his first term. “I fought like hell to get this done.”

The mayor called it a “three-fer” benefit to the Police Department, the district and the neighborhoods around the schools. Moving them off the streets and into the schools was a “redistribution of resources,” Bernero said, because it reduces the need to dispatch officers there.

“To me, it’s an abdication of responsibility” to tell the district to take care of its own security, Bernero said. “Why should we exclude schools in a post-Columbine world? The last place we should cut is in the schools.”

District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul declined to comment when asked if she believed, like Washington, whether LPD officers should be pulled out of the schools.

Former Police Chief Teresa Szymanski said during last week’s budget hearing that the school resource officers are funded by a federal grant that expires in August 2014. She said it’s a requirement of that grant for officers to be placed in schools.

Washington said she would oppose applying again for the grant if security officers are proving adequate.

Council President Carol Wood said that ever since Bernero and the LPD decided to put officers in schools, she has wanted the school and the city to split the costs of the officers — which hasn’t happened. However, whether to keep them there is “not a decision the Council gets to make.”

She agrees when Washington says it’s duplicative to have an LPD officer and a deputized security guard in the same building.

“When (the security guard) is able to make the arrest, absolutely,” Wood said.

Interim Police Chief Mike Yankowski said the department has “established a police presence in all of our schools in the city,” ranging from stopping in to talk with students, reading them books or helping at crossing guard locations.

“The positive interactions and relationships that are formed between the students and officers cannot be overstated,” Yankowksi said in an email.

Also: “The (school resource officers) are able to handle matters that previously would have required sending one or more patrol officers to the schools. Having the officers visible in the schools helps prevent some of those calls for service, and drastically reduces our response time. The mere fact that the police officers are visible is valuable in keeping our schools as safe as possible.”