City Council hears opposition to school police

City Council hears opposition to school police by David Lias There has been no formal proposal presented by either school or city officials to increase city police presence in Vermillion Public Schools.

Councilman Frank Slagle, however, made it clear at Monday�s City Council meeting that he opposes police officers in schools.

Shortly after the beginning of the meeting, he left his seat at the council members� table to address the body as a citizen from the podium in the council�s meeting room.

�Many citizens are not even aware that this idea is being proposed. I want to take this opportunity to inform citizens of the proposal so that they have time to discuss it among themselves � before it becomes final,� he said.

A complete text of Slagle�s remarks can be found on page 4 of today�s Plain Talk.

Slagle said he opposes the idea of placing police in schools for several reasons. He noted that Vermillion is one of the most heavily-policed communities in South Dakota.

�I have another objection as well. I simply do not believe that we have so much violence in our schools that we need to station a full-time police officer there. Indeed, many people actually move to Vermillion so that their children can attend our schools precisely because it is relatively safe when compared with other schools, and especially when compared with schools in larger cities,� Slagle said. �Just because large cities need police protection in the public schools does not mean that we need it too.�

He emphasized that no matter what the council decides to do, it should follow the wishes of the public.

I don�t want this important decision to be made without giving the public advance warning before a final decision is made. Whether the public supports the proposal or not, they are entitled to have an opportunity to discuss it, and to see if there is any majority consensus, before a final decision is proposed,� Slagle said. �I simply do not want a final decision to be made without an adequate opportunity for public debate on this important community issue.�

Mayor Bill Radigan said the city may apply for federal grant funds in either June or July that would help pay for a police officer in the schools in the coming school year.

He added that the council, if it desired, could schedule action on this issue at one of its future meetings up until July 1.

Councilman Dick Burbach noted that he would hesitate to take such action not knowing what type of proposal City Manager Jeff Pederson plans to present to the council.

Pederson said he had intended to make a presentation at Monday�s meeting. But the presentation wasn�t formulated yet by meeting time.

�There are two scheduled meetings, of course, by June,� Pederson said. �I would hope that if we would come forward with a proposal for an application, it would be ready by the first meeting in June, but I would feel more comfortable if the council left that open.�

The council agreed to place the issue on the agenda of one of its two regularly scheduled meetings in June.

�I would just like to see more information on it,� Councilman Gary Wright said.

�While Frank�s statements raises a lot of issues that I�m not here to talk about, he raises one issue that I am here to talk about, and that is the proposal for the federal grant money to put an officer in the schools,� said John Gors, a Vermillion attorney. �I�ve talked to Dr. Mayer (Vermillion�s school superintendent) about this, I�ve expressed my opposition to this for a number of reasons, and I think it�s only fair since this is really going to be a city/school venture, no matter how it is described, to make that known to the council.�

Gors said that philosophically, he believes the notion of placing a police officer in the schools sends the wrong message to young people.

�I don�t think this is the proper way to deal with issues of violence,� he said. �I don�t think that it encourages an atmosphere in our schools that our children can appreciate. I think it�s wrong. I just think it�s a bad idea. I think it�s a reactionary idea to a terrible tragedy that�s happened in Colorado and in other places.�

Gors noted that two of his children have been educated in the Vermillion school system. Later this month, his daughter will be graduating from Vermillion High School.

�I can honestly say that I�ve never felt that my children were threatened in any way,� Gors said. �I have never been concerned for their safety.�

He said he doesn�t claim to have �taken the pulse of the city� but in his discussions with

local citizens about this issue, he said he hasn�t been able to find anyone who agrees with it.

�I�ve talked to my daughter, and I�ve talked to her friends,� he said, �and I have asked them, ?What�s your reaction to having a police officer in the school full-time?�

�Everyone unanimously has been negative to it,� Gors added. �The kids don�t like it, they feel it�s intimidating, it�s a show of force.�

He said his experience as an attorney has taught him that the good kids, the bad kids and the kids in between are not swayed by threats of force.

�If we�re going to take meaningful efforts, I think we need to have a dialogue established with everyone in the community, including law enforcement and school officials,� Gors said. �We need to be alert to dangerous situations that may occur, but our resources are much better directed to prevention rather than just simply deterrence with another gun and another badge.�

�If the city does decide to station a full-time police officer in the public schools, the citizens of Vermillion will eventually be funding an additional staff person in the schools,� Slagle told the council. �I believe the cost of staffing the school system should be borne by the school district, which extends outside the city limits, and not concentrated onto the shoulders of the citizens who happen to live within the city limits.�

�I would ask that before you make any decisions on this, you would get some meaningful, and I mean meaningful, input from the community,� Gors said, �because I don�t believe the support is out there, and I believe the school and city needs to be in tandem on this issue.�

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