As one of its cost-cutting measures, the city of Roswell will no longer provide school resource officers to the Roswell Independent School District when classes resume. But with uncertainty about the budget and the pandemic, the RISD superintendent said he wasn’t yet sure how the district would respond.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet in special session beginning Thursday to revise the fiscal 2021 budget to account for an expected $2.4 billion shortfall in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and crash in the oil and gas industry.
With the possibility of the RISD budget having some funds taken back and the uncertainty of when or how schools will be allowed to reopen, Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said he couldn’t say how the decrease in school resource officers would affect RISD.
“This next year is going to be very different from a normal year, so it’s really going to be very hard to really think how’s it going to impact us,” Gottlieb said.
One affect is a delay in an RISD policy change. At the June 9 RISD school board meeting, Gottlieb pulled a policy revision on student interrogations, searches and arrests from the agenda, saying he wanted further reviews due to the city’s change in school resource officers. The policy change was on the agenda for a second reading and vote.
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The move by the city puts three officers into positions that have been open for some time at the Roswell Police Department, Todd Wildermuth, public information officer for the city of Roswell, said.
Several years ago, the RPD had four officers and a sergeant assigned to the schools. One of the officers retired in May 2017 and another moved from Roswell in the 2018-19 school year, Wildermuth said. Those positions were not filled.
The officers spent 100% of their time in the schools, Wildermuth said.
“Unless they were needed elsewhere, they were at the schools,” he said.
“They basically worked a day shift, and they were at school all day from before the students arrived in the morning ‘til after the students left each day,” Wildermuth said.
The officers provided security for the schools and events and assisted with emergency drills, but also just made connections with the students, Gottlieb said.
“They help with any situational problems, but most of the time they were working with kids and getting them to understand how the police work,” he said.
Wildermuth said the officers acted as a liaison between the police department and schools, but agreed their role went beyond that.
“They’d be interacting with students and be able to talk to them. The students would get to know them and could confide in them and trust them if they had questions of any sort of nature,” he said.
But with an anticipated 24% reduction in gross receipts tax from business closures during the pandemic adding to the oil and gas industry crash earlier this year, the city sought to cut $34 million in expenses from its fiscal 2021 budget.
One budget-saving measure was to remove vacant positions from department budgets, City Manager Joe Neeb told the City Council in a June 2 budget workshop. About a year ago, the city had 61.5 full-time equivalent positions that remained vacant and were accounted for in the budget. By May, the city eliminated 40.5 of those positions according to Neeb’s workshop presentation, including some in the police department.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to reach, particularly in the patrol division, the full number that we were budgeted for,” Wildermuth said.
While those numbers have been drawn back to meet the expected budget cuts, reassigning the school officers adds one officer and the sergeant in the patrol division. The second officer, who had previously worked as a detective, has returned to that division, Wildermuth said.
The police department would like to keep a relationship with the schools, however, Neeb said at the budget workshop.
“We want to have that contact with the youth because we believe that’s what’s important about setting the stage for the future,” the city manager said.
“We want to do it so that it’s not an everyday thing, but it is covering a lot more ground and has more influence,” he said.
“With the current budget conditions for the city and the police department, those officers will most likely be remaining in their reassigned positions as far as what they do day to day,” Wildermuth said.
“Obviously the police department is still ready and able to handle anything that comes up at a school when we’re needed there, whether it be some sort of incident or if we’re invited to an event, some sort of public outreach thing. We’re certainly available for all those things,” he said.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.