School Resource Officer program changes finalized with Cedar Rapids City Council approval

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman talks about the impact of school resource officers at a school board meeting in Cedar Rapids on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – The city of Cedar Rapids has officially approved changes to the program employing police officers in Cedar Rapids schools after some students and community members lobbied for the program to be changed to address racial disparities.

Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday authorized the City Manager and City Clerk to sign an amended agreement between the city and the Cedar Rapids Community School District to renew the School Resource Officer program for the period July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

The seven-member Cedar Rapids School Board approved a number of changes to the program last month. Under the amended agreement, officers will not play a role in enforcing school rules or discipline, will wear “soft” uniforms to be more accessible, and must allow parents or guardians to be present if their children are questioned by officers at school.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said he and other members of the police department met with Superintendent Noreen Bush and Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker ahead of this meeting to discuss the recommended changes.

“One thing that is also important when we have done all of this is realizing that we have a really good program, and when we got together with the schools, it was to make our program even better,” said Captain Brent Long, who oversees the community. Services division where the program is housed.

While the original agreement primarily described the structure of the program and the services involved, the amended agreement includes the objectives of the program.

“With the school we now want to create an environment where all students feel safe and supported, we will instill (in) all students and staff … a sense of belonging, educate and teach students the behaviors and appropriate responses through restoration and trauma-adapted lenses, ”said Long.

The agreement also permanently removes full-time officers from McKinley and Roosevelt Colleges. Anticipating the change, the district removed them before the first day of school on August 23.

Instead, these two officers will now be available at all elementary and middle schools in Cedar Rapids as a guard resource and to provide instruction on active sniper training and lessons on civic engagement, according to the modified agreement.

Full-time School Resource Officers will remain at Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington, and Metro and Polk Alternative High Schools.

The program changes come as the Cedar Rapids District and Police Department have shared goals of reducing arrests and charges against all students by 50% or more, and reducing the number of students by 50% or more. disproportionality of arrests of black students.

Recent data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights showed that black students in Cedar Rapids schools were six times more likely to be the subject of criminal allegations than white students.

Less than 3 percent of all students were arrested by school resource officers over a four-year period. But black students have been arrested at higher rates than white students, despite making up 19.1% of the student body.

Under the agreement, officers will receive ongoing training on restorative disciplinary practices, cross-cultural development inventory, de-escalation strategies and other topics with Cedar Rapids school employees.

Long said the agreement also formalized a diversion program, which the department has been working on for two years, where officers divert first-offense violations to the school district.

“We definitely think we’re not here to stop, we’re here to teach and help,” Long said.

Mayor Brad Hart said he appreciated the flexibility and willingness of the police department to change the program because “the good job has already been done, but making the changes to better serve our students, our schools and the wider community. from the community”.

Board member Ashley Vanorny, who sits on the council’s public safety and youth services committee, said she believes the council can help tackle some of the root causes that contribute to youth violence through continued investments in community services, affordable housing and other city programs.

“I see the work you do to support people and to try to teach them, train them and support them, however they present themselves,” Vanorny said. “I think so often what ends up happening is you end up being a band-aid solution for some really overlooked social determinants of health. It’s difficult because there is no other option when people don’t have enough food, don’t have enough shelter, don’t know where their next meal will come from, aren’t safe at home, and so a lot of these things end up in your lap.

Officers, working with the district, will collect data on all referrals to law enforcement, including police calls, criminal charges, and arrests in school-related incidents. This data will be compiled into a statistical report format and transmitted monthly to the district.

Some school board members, when they voted to approve the changes last month, said this data would be critical to moving the program forward.

“I think we should see this as kind of a moment of crisis for the students in our schools,” school board member Dexter Merschbrock said at the Sept. 27 meeting, given state data and school survey results that the district reviewed showing racial disparities among students. perceptions of the program.

“We really have to be prepared to act and change (the program), and if it’s about canceling the contract with the city, we should do that if the data doesn’t support the changes we’ve made.” . a difference, ”added Merschbrock.

Responding to Merschbrock’s comments, board chair Nancy Humbles said “as a board we need to stay on top of what’s going on, because of the data”.

Asked by board member Scott Overland, who sits on the public safety committee, when a possible contract extension could be presented to the board, Long said it would happen around May or June.

First, Long said the police department would take the information gathered over the next few months and “continue to assess any changes or different methods we need to adapt to.”

Merschbrock at the September 27 meeting had also asked whether, during interviews with police department and school district officials, there had been a discussion about the nature of the district’s relationship with the police department might possibly be “Without us providing funding to SROs. directly.”

Funding is limited, Merschbrock said, and while safety is important, the money could go to other services to promote these restorative practices.

“This will have to be part of the determining factor, what is the return on investment for student outcomes? Bush replied.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; [email protected]

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