School resource officers have become as American as apple pie.
And because of that, we, as a society may be skewing just how important they are in the overall scheme of things.
Manteca Unified — up until this fiscal year before they decided it might be a good idea to have an invoice detailing hours the SRO officers worked — has been issuing a check for $300,000 annually to the City of Manteca to cover almost two thirds of the salaries of three police officers (based on pay and benefits if they were entry level officers) to serve as school resource officers. One is assigned to each of the three comprehensive high schools within the city limits — Manteca, East Union, and Sierra.
The proposed municipal budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1 has all three SRO police positions fully funded regardless of whether the school district pays for them.
Both the school district and the city sing the praises of the school resource officer program. Other than the solid assumption that the resource officers build relationships with young people and can be called on to diffuse situations no one is tossing around cold hard facts about their impact. Have they seized a lot of weapons or drugs? How many suspicious people who have entered campuses have they been called on to intercept? Have they made the streets around the high schools safer when it comes to students on foot mixing it up with traffic coming to and from school? What amount of gang intel do they gather?
There of course are those who utter the words that the “unthinkable could happen here.” Anything is possible including an oil train blowing as it rumbles by Manteca High but you don’t see the school district putting in place a 100-foot high berm at the campus’ edge along Moffat Boulevard to deflect a fireball and protect against flying shrapnel.
It is why the billing snafu between the school district and the city is a good time for both governing boards to reassess what they are doing with tax dollars and limited resources.
The issues are clear. In the coming municipal budget 100 percent of the salaries of three police officers assigned as school resource officers are tentatively covered by city taxpayers. Keep in mind highly trained police officers are the most costly frontline employees in the City or Manteca and also represent the biggest pension burden.
Can the City Council justify keeping them in place as school resource officers when pressing needs go unmet such as stepped up traffic enforcement, more proactive patrols, and simply having more officers available for targeted enforcement whether it is the streets crime unit or the detective division?
Is the city committing funds to a school resource officer — whether it is 100 percent or somewhere between a third and 50 percent the most effective deployment of municipal tax dollars? Would Manteca as a whole be better served with six traffic enforcement officers as opposed to three school resource officers? As things stand now Manteca can apparently cover the entire tab for the three SRO positions in the upcoming budget.
And given more students are likely injured seriously in auto accidents caused by speeding and inattentive driving than attacks taking place at high school campuses, does directing limited funds to SRO positions really make young people safer in the long run based on what other duties the three school resource officers could be assigned to perform around the city are they actually less safe?
By simply going forward with the three SRO positions being converted to other duties would the police department’s crime fighting capability and ability to tame the streets be sharpened?
How less safe would the high schools be without school resource officers?
Then there is the real dicey issue about “billable hours”. Every officer based on seniority has a different pay rate. Do the billable hours include all proportionate payroll costs such as workmen’s compensation, health care benefits, pension costs, as well as holiday and sick pay of the specific officers? Does the billable hours include the proportionate share the city incurs with uniform allowance and the cost of purchasing, maintaining, and operating vehicles used in connecting with the execution of SRO duties?
What happens when the beat patrol staffing of the Manteca Police is depleted due to sickness, vacation, court appearances or other reasons and SROs are used to backfill those positions during the school year? Is the school district not billed for those hours? What about the time officers are pulled away because officers on patrol need backup? Does the school district get credit for that? What seems to be a straightforward request for a detailed invoice of billable hours before the $300,000 is paid is fraught with issues that need to be addressed.
That said would it make sense for Manteca Unified to have its own police force? That way they have full control over hours and costs with the actual officer pay probably being less.
This of course would beg questions about the real value of the schools funding school resource officers instead of blindly re-upping every year.
Are the overwhelming number of safety issues that arise being addressed thoroughly by campus monitors and stepped up school security through secured entrances, fencing, state-of-the-art camera systems, and other measures funded by the school bond such as better campus communication?
It is clear the SRO officers are professional and appreciated.
The campus police presence is designed to build relationships and break down barriers to not just build trust in law enforcement but also reduce the potential for teen-age — and possibly future — crime. But is there a better use of resources to accomplish that goal such as deploying a broader community policing approach using the three high schools as the heart of specially designed beats?
We don’t know the answer to that question because the SRO program isn’t evaluated by elected leaders in terms of its effectiveness on overall school or community safety compared with other options. Instead it is automatically approved year after year.
The billing/invoice snafu is an opportunity for both the school district and city to assess the SRO program.
Manteca in the early 1990s was among the initial wave of communities to deploy school resource officers.
There is no reason to believe they haven’t been effective to a degree. That said there may be a better way to deploy $300,000 in tax dollars whether the school district or the city is spending it.
For the schools would having more campus monitors spread throughout the district be more effective instead of three SRO officers assigned to the three high schools?
And if the city ends up picking up the entire tab would it be a more effective use of the $300,000 cost set aside for roughly two thirds of the three officers’ time dedicated to SRO duties during the course of a year to have those positions stretched fulltime to patrol or traffic enforcement?
It’s a $300,000 question that deserves an answer.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com