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Authorities place blame for loss of school resource officers

As politicians point fingers in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook slaughter, a school security expert says politicians at all levels had a hand in the disappearance of school security.

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based firm, said the nation had fallen into a “pre-Columbine mentality” in recent years. The Bush administration chipped away at school security programs created out of the Colorado shooting and the Obama administration let the programs lapse while Congress did nothing.

Trump, who has testified before Congress, documented the elimination of the federal programs, including one that put police officers on campuses, in his blog over the past few years. He also said states either stopped expanding their own programs or eliminated them.

“I’m calling this Columbine déjà vu because what I expect to happen in the upcoming weeks is Congress will throw money at this again,” Trump said. “We’re a rollercoaster society, rollercoaster public awareness, rollercoaster public policy, rollercoaster public funding.”

Trump wants to see governments, from federal to individual school districts, make a long-term commitment to school safety and make it a part of their regular budgets instead of funding it through grants.

Arizona politicians have debated in recent weeks who to blame for the loss of hundreds of campus cops, or school resource officers, in the state. There will be plenty of debate about whether to pay for more of them when the Legislature convenes Jan. 14.

House Speaker Andy Tobin urged President Barak Obama in a Dec. 27 Twitter post to restore cuts made to school resource officers, or SROs. He said on Channel 8’s “Horizon,” a public-television program, that officers were cut by the federal government. But he didn’t mention in either instance the Legislature’s fiscal year 2011 cut to a $6.7 million general fund appropriation to the School Safety Program, which funded roughly 100 SROs.

“It has been gutted the last several years by the governor and the Legislature,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, the House minority leader.

The 2011 cut was one of a slew of budget reductions, accounting tricks and fund sweeps that kept the state financially afloat during a massive economic downturn. The general fund appropriation for SROs was not restored, but a voter mandated $7.8 million for the state program remains, which funded 104 officers in fiscal year 2012.

Tobin said he wasn’t trying to deflect attention from the actions of the Arizona Legislature. He said he was pointing out the federal government’s role in the decline of SROs and trying to show the whole story.

And part of the story, he said, was the Legislature giving schools flexibility in spending by allowing them to move dollars between maintenance and operation and capital budgets.

“So if you have a school district that was anxious over security issues, there was nothing that was stopping them. We put almost $40 million back into K-3 education,” Tobin said. “I’m only sitting there saying, ‘If we’re going to point fingers, let’s have this bigger, broader discussion.’”

Campbell on Jan. 8 floated a proposal to restore the general fund appropriation for officers in schools to $17 million a year. It was part of a $261 million plan to address school safety, mental-health care and restrict gun ownership. Schools would get $100 million for school safety alone.

Campbell said the $40 million Tobin spoke of is inadequate.

“We need to fund education to a greater degree, it’s woefully underfunded,” Campbell said.

Tobin said extra funding for SROs is not off the table.

“If we put more money in schools and give them the resources, more resources and they can use those resources as they see fit for security and stuff, does that help solve the problem? Tobin asked. “Those are things my members are already looking at — how can we help our schools more, what do they need? — and we listen to them.”

Tobin’s statements about the Obama administration’s cuts were true to an extent.

The Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, agency, cut two programs that provided equipment and training in security to schools, but the program that actually put School Resource Officers on campuses, the COPS in Schools Program, was eliminated in 2005.

Arizona police departments received $34.6 million from 1999 to 2005 under COPS in Schools, which funded

114 officers during that period, according to a Department of Justice report.

The number of state-funded SROs dwindled from 273 in fiscal year 2007 to 200 in fiscal year 2009, to the current level of 104.

Rob Katzaroff, a spokesman for the Arizona School Resource Officers Association, said there are roughly

200 SROs in the state, half of them funded by partnerships between school districts and police departments.

School security became less of a priority at the state and federal levels as Columbine became more remote in time, and then Obama turned the focus away from school violence toward bullying, Trump said.

“The reality is all of them on both sides of the aisle have let school security and policing and prevention and preparedness go down the tubes,” Trump said. “Everybody has dirty hands in it either for their actions or their inactions.”

Trump said one of the problems with the COPS in Schools Program was that it was a four-year grant that provided less money each year, and police departments at the end of the time period were supposed to sustain the funding themselves.

“Of course, what happened after the grants went away, the school districts pointed to local law enforcement, local law enforcement pointed back. And when the budgets got really tight we started seeing a number of those programs cut back or eliminated,” Trump said.

He said the Department of Education under Obama also eliminated three other school safety programs, one of which was Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools, or REMS, which is used by schools for the prevention and management of emergencies, including school shootings.

Joanne Wood, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said the eliminated grants were folded into a single broader grant. She did not immediately provide details.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Corey Ray said that although the COPS in Schools Program was eliminated, police departments since 2009 have been able to hire SROs through other hiring grants. No statistics were immediately available on how many police departments in Arizona took advantage of the grants to hire SROs.

Trump said local school boards also have to start viewing SROs, training and emergency preparedness as a normal part of doing business and budget for them just like they do for teachers, counselors, cooks and bus drivers. And while money may be tight, it can be found by cutting back on pork.

“School safety can’t be viewed in the long-term as a grant-funded luxury,” Trump said. “And that’s what it has been — if we get a grant, we’ll do this, if we don’t, we’ll wait and hope we get a grant.”

 

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