By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Our View: Is school officer necessary, affordable?
Placeholder Image
The City of Monroe is doing the right thing in applying for a federal grant that would allow it to hire an extra police officer to patrol the city's schools. That decision was relatively easy.

Now the hard part should begin - a discussion about whether the extra officer is needed and, more importantly, whether the position can be afforded. That's a task the Monroe City Council and Monroe school district must tackle together.

Part of the federal economic stimulus plan was to create police jobs - and in theory increase public safety - by pumping $1 billion into the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services program. Municipalities that receive grant money would use it to create a new full-time, entry-level officer position. COPS would fully fund the position for three years. In return, the governmental body receiving the grant promises to fully fund the position for a fourth year.

The recent rash of threats at Monroe High School and Monroe Middle School has sparked an interest in having an officer in the schools full-time. Given the disruptions and worries the threats have caused in the schools and community, it is legitimate to discuss having a permanent police presence.

Monroe Police Chief Fred Kelley asked the City Council for permission to apply for a COPS grant to hire an additional officer for a direct school application. The council voted 7-1 on April 8 to move forward with the application. It was a wise decision. Simply applying for a grant does not commit the city to accepting the funds.

For obvious reasons, many communities are interested in receiving a COPS grant. The application deadline was Tuesday, and the program's Web site says the process of determining recipients will be "highly competitive." There's no guarantee Monroe will be selected for a grant. All applicants will be notified whether they receive COPS funding by Sept. 30.

The city now must determine what its answer will be if it is offered the grant.

Aldermen must decide whether the city can afford to pay for an additional police officer in the fourth year and beyond. They must be realistic, and accept that if a police officer in the schools is truly needed now, it most likely will be in five years and 10 years. Looking at the position as only a four-year proposition would be short-sighted.

The city also must approach the discussion with the assumption that its financial situation won't be any better in four years than it is now. It might be better, of course, but it also could be worse. Budgeting for this year was fairly tight. Aldermen should identify some specific positions or services they are willing to do without to fund an extra police position. The public should have an opportunity to weigh in.

And the school district must help pay for the position, as Superintendent Larry Brown indicated Monday it would be willing to do if the extra officer is merited and a grant received.

So is a full-time officer in the schools necessary? Would it be helpful? How would having an officer prevent the threats of the past few weeks? And what kind of presence would the officer have in the schools? What distractions or inconveniences would that cause to students and staff?

Again, the easy part of the discussion was asking for the money. It'll be tougher to determine whether the position is necessary, and whether the financial commitment is feasible.