Cedar Rapids Police worry for future of school resource officer program

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 6:36 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Cedar Rapids Community School District is looking at making changes to its program that puts police officers in some schools.

This comes as data showed Black students were disproportionately arrested. Police officials said that when victims want to press charges after an incident, it counts as an arrest. They said the school resource officer program doesn’t put cops in schools to arrest kids, but to build relationships with them.

Recommendations on changes to the program were laid out by the District in a school board meeting Monday night. Department officials told us on Tuesday they’re worried about the future of the school resource officer program as a whole.

“It is the best community outreach piece that this police department has. It touches the most kids by far of any program we have,” Lt. Cory McGarvey said.

The district presented 14 recommended changes to the SRO program. One current SRO spoke during the meeting.

“My fear is we’re going to lose that relationship with a lot of these families,” Officer Jess Barnhart, an SRO at Polk Alternative Education Center, said.

Public comments spanned different sides of the debate including some who want a police presence at school.

“I’ve been in situations where I don’t want to go check this kid’s backpack because we know he’s got a gun. And so we had to go call the officer to check that out, and he had a gun,” Davondrain Wright, engagement specialist at Washington High School, said.

The board also heard from some students who said armed cops on campus make them uncomfortable.

“It’s honestly very, very scary to make eye contact with someone that can kill you,” a senior at Washington High School said.

One of the recommended changes presented by the district included getting rid of the only two middle school officers, currently assigned to McKinley and Roosevelt. That’s something that’s already taken place to start this school year.

“The police department doesn’t agree with that,” McGarvey said. “We just feel like middle schools are our best chance to build relationships early with these kids especially in the post-George Floyd era, this is when we need to build these relationships with these kids.”

The department argues that creating relationships with students can ultimately help their perception of law enforcement down the road.

One of the other recommendations included having officers wear soft uniforms instead of their traditional police gear.

The school board did not make a decision on the recommendations Monday but is expected to vote on them during an upcoming board meeting. You can see the full presentation which lists all of the recommended changes to the SRO program here.

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