The number of reported crimes is down at Oak Ridge High School since police officers were given office space there in August, and a move recommended by city administrators could add another school resource officer in the Oak Ridge school system.
It’s part of a program to improve student safety and use law enforcement to reduce unacceptable student behaviors, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson and Police Chief Jim Akagi said.
Oak Ridge Schools now have one school resource officer, or SRO. There have been discussions about adding more officers, especially since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, but funding has been an obstacle.
On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council will consider a resolution that would allow the Oak Ridge Police Department to hire an extra police officer, exceeding its authorized personnel staffing levels, in order to assign an existing police officer as an SRO. There have been proposals to add more—in December, City Council member Trina Baughn proposed one at each of the city’s two middle schools—but Watson and Akagi are recommending one additional officer now.
In a memo to City Council, the city manager and police chief said funding is available from positions that are unfilled because of retirements and personnel turnover.
Previous proposals to increase personnel have been limited because there has been a need for growth in sales tax revenues, but projected revenues are now moving in a positive direction, the memo said.
Authorization of the additional staffing level will be an initial commitment or consideration for possible inclusion in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which will start July 1, the memo said.
Watson and Akagi cited incidents involving students with dangerous weapons at Robertsville Middle Schools and Oak Ridge High School in December 2013. In the first case, a BB gun was seized from an RMS locker, and in the second, a .357 caliber pistol and narcotics were seized from a student’s vehicle parked on campus at the high school.
Watson and Akagi said the Oak Ridge Board of Education set a goal in 2011 of one SRO per school. But that was not possible due to budgetary constraints, and the proposal was not recommended by the police chief, who identified a need to have four officers. The school board is interested in helping to support the positions financially, but the funding is not currently under consideration.
In June 2013, new Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers met with the ORPD to discuss long-term school safety and security issues, including the potential assignment of more SROs, and he worked with the police department on physical and procedural changes that enhance safety, Watson and Akagi said.
The ORPD stationed a sergeant and two officers in offices at the Oak Ridge High School and Alternative School in August 2013, improving the police department’s visibility at school facilities.
Watson and Akagi said juvenile crime in Oak Ridge increased by 29.9 percent between FY 2011 and FY 2012, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation statistics. But the latest statistical analysis of incidents at the high school show reported crimes have decreased since more officers were deployed there. There were 57 incidents at the high school during the 2012-2013 school year. There have been 31 so far this year, and the projected total for the year is 51, about an 11.5 percent decrease.
“The total ORPD incidents at the high school this school year are trending lower than last year and are likely to remain lower than last year’s numbers as we progress into the last semester of the 2013-14 school year,” Watson and Akagi said. “This trend is significant, especially considering the fact that incidents/arrests tend to be initially higher when more police personnel are directed into hot spot areas. These statistics are encouraging given the timeframe to analyze the dataset of incidents is shortened (August 2013-January 2014), which doesn’t allow for the full deterrent effect of the increased police presence to be measured.”
The two city administrators said it would cost about $110,000 to fully fund the SRO’s median salary and benefits (about $55,000), patrol vehicle (approximately $50,000), uniforms and equipment (roughly $4,000), and basic SRO certification training (about $1,500).