ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — For nearly 30 years Rochester Police Department (RPD) officers have monitored school safety within Rochester Public Schools (RPS).
The partnership, formerly known as Police Liaison Officer Agreement, is now titled the School Resource Officer.
Following the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools ended their contracts with police after distrust for law enforcement increased.
On Tuesday, the Rochester Public School Board will vote on whether to renew its contract with RPD.
“The community in the community survey that we sent out felt strongly that we need to maintain that relationship and keep those officers in our school buildings. A number of students feel the same way but But there are others who did not like that idea at all. They thought that police had no place in our school buildings,” said Jean Marvin, RPS Board Chair.
The proposed SRO contract would have five officers working among eight RPS schools.
- Century High School
- Kellogg Middle School
- John Marshall High School
- Mayo High School
- Phoenix Academy
- Rochester Alternative Learning Center
- John Adams Middle School
- Willow Creek Middle School
“The job is complex. It focuses on problem-solving over enforcement, it always has and so we’re typically putting more experienced officers in those positions,” said RPD Capt. Jeff Stillwell.
Stillwell said along with having experienced officers in the role, they have selected minorities to fill the positions as well.
“Of the five SROs there’s one female. There’s one LatinX officer. We’ve had officers of color in the schools that have been promoted into supervisor ranks. We’re always trying to put people in there that look like the student body they’re policing,” he said.
Now if the RPS board votes to renew the contract between the school and RPD. It will discuss changes to the program on how to make students more comfortable with officers in the building.
“Before the school year starts next fall, there will be some changes in how the school resource officers work in our schools. And I think that what we’ll probably be working out too, is that there will be opportunities for students to have discussions to process what’s happening in the school. To ensure that the police officers who are posted in our schools, get the same type of equity training that our staff does,” Marvin said.
She says students’ thoughts and concerns will be at the forefront.
“We understand that seeing the uniforms. Seeing that person can really trigger fear and emotions,” Marvin said. “One of the issues a number of students said was they didn’t feel comfortable having an officer in uniform in their building. And in discussion with officers they’ve said, ‘we can do plain clothes. We can spend more time talking to kids we can have a meeting with them.'”
RPD also understands the concern behind police presence in schools but wants students and parents to know their priority is safety and to build students’ trust.
“It’s not like a lot of other programs. It’s not for enforcement. They’re not there enforcing school rules. They’re really there as one principal said, for emergency and fun. And the fun part is interacting with kids, being another adult in the setting. And we are diverting a lot of cases out of the criminal justice system just by front in intervention, and finding a lot of alternative and restorative justice practices,” Stilwell said.
The board will vote on the proposed contract during its meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.