By Travis Gulbrandson
Vermillion police chief Matt Betzen is applying for a grant that could net the community another School Resource Officer (SRO).
The Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grants are focused on supporting the hiring of SROs and pay approximately 75 percent of a new position for the first three years of its existence.
“The bottom line is, putting a visible officer in the schools makes the staff, the parents, the kids all feel safer,” Betzen told the Vermillion City Council during a presentation last week.
Even before the grant became available, Betzen said he was looking into getting another SRO for the Vermillion School District.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department currently has an SRO stationed in the local schools.
“I talked to the sheriff when I first got here, and we agreed that there is plenty of room for two SRO officers,” Betzen said. “One would be stationed for the most part in the high school, one would be stationed for the most part in the middle school, but both of them would then have more opportunity to do walk-throughs in the elementary schools and expand the DARE program to include both middle school and the elementary schools.”
In addition, the SRO would become part of emergency planning, have daily meetings with school administrators, and improve communication with the police department, giving officers a better grasp of what’s going on at the school, he said.
“You’re going to improve the safety of your schools overall – not just with active shooters,” he said.
The COPS grant is competitive, would provide approximately $40,000 for three years.
Betzen said if the grant is received, he hopes to select the SRO in June and send them to training in July so that they would be prepared for the upcoming school year.
“My intent is to try and sell you on getting one no matter what,” Betzen told the council.
He added that a district safety assessment was completed after the Newtown school massacre last year, and that law enforcement and the district are working on additional programs apart from the COPS grant:
- In July an intensified training on active shooters will be performed that will include visiting all of the schools;
- an ALICE – Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate – training session will be held, instructing city employees and others how to respond to active shooter situations;
- Betzen is working on a proposal asking for second-penny funds to expand the police department’s tactical gear and equip all of its officers on the same level; and
- all the schools’ emergency plans will be improved.
“I think we already do a lot of things,” Betzen said. “Shooter events in the past have already prodded us to do a lot of things better than most agencies in our size bracket do, but when you see something like Newtown, you say, ‘What else can we do?’”
The COPS grant applications are being accepted until May 22.