Compass: School district needs city's help to keep officers on campus

By JEFF FRIEDMANNovember 24, 2013 

Schools are not isolated centers for education; they are a vital part of the larger community. Schools support families by focusing on all aspects of a child's life, including counseling, nursing and nutrition.

Another area where this is seen is with community policing. The School Resource Officer program was started by the Anchorage Police Department under a conservative mayor and an Assembly that understood the value of community policing. Schools are an ideal place for police to begin to know and develop a working relationship with the city's younger citizens. The focus is on prevention (rather than reaction), though if a crime is committed by a student, chances are good that it will be solved in part through information gathered by the resource officers whom students have learned to trust and respect.

The police department's SRO program operated for many years with city funding. But city priorities changed, and when reducing taxes below the tax cap became a priority, one method of achieving that goal was to ask ASD to pay for part, and later for the entire cost, of the SROs. ASD agreed because the program provided educational value in addition to the law enforcement value. Police officers provide role models, help teach classes, provide safety information and inspire our community's children.

Because resource officers provide a valuable community benefit, ASD agreed it could shoulder this cost. But recent increases in state funding for education have been offset by a mandatory decrease in what the city is allowed to contribute. This has left the city with a surplus and ASD facing large cuts. ASD can no longer afford to support the police department's budget in this way.

To help ASD focus on its mission of educating students, the Assembly recently voted to move some of the cost of the police department's program back under the city's budget. This is a good start.

For the taxpayers, it is just an accounting issue. Money spent out of one pocket is now being spent out of a different pocket.

For the School District, it means fewer cuts to an already stretched budget.

For the community, it means one more lifeline remains in place. In time of need, there will still be a school nurse, a counselor, a teacher, a secretary or a police officer to turn to for help.

Jeff Friedman is an attorney and served on the Anchorage School Board for nine years.

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