Cedar Rapids Community schools report steep decrease in high schoolers charged following changes to SRO program

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 5:31 AM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Cedar Rapids Community School District school board received an update from its School Resource Officer program at a board meeting Monday night.

The district approved significant changes to its SRO program in September, after data showed Black students were disproportionately arrested in the district.

Data presented during the meeting showed a sharp decrease in charges of both Black and White high school students from the start of this school year to the end of November, compared to the same time period in 2018.

Charges of Black high school students are down 78.7 percent. Charges of White high school students are down even more, with a decrease of 88.4 percent. Staff noted those numbers largely reflect a change in response to incidents, not necessarily a difference in student behaviors.

“How we are responding as adults is more teaching restorative mechanism than using that punitive mechanism. So our next step is going to be how can we proactively change those student behaviors that are happening within our system,” said Cedar Rapids Community School District Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kookier.

Officer Drew Tran is a school resource officer at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School. He spoke about the recent training SRO’s have competed, including training on de-escalation and trauma informed care.

He also talked about the importance of the school resource officers being able to build relationships with students, speaking from personal experience about having to step between a fight between students earlier this year.

“The only thing that stopped the young men from going after each other was the relationship I developed,” said Tran. “We stopped, took a walk and talked about why that happened and did it really need to. That was a diversion.”

The number of formal diversions SRO’s are making is up significantly. That’s when an officer makes a record of addressing an incident, but stops short of a formal charge. Instead, Lieutenant Cory McGarvey with the Cedar Rapids Police Department explained they can be addressed in a variety of ways, from assigning a student a written essay, to having students attend counseling sessions.

Lt. McGarvey gave an update on diversions this year at the meeting, saying from 2017 through 2021 they had reported 40 total diversions. So far this school year, data shows 19 diversions among high school students already from August through November of this year.

Staff outlined several end-of-year goals for the program, including reducing the disproportionality of charges for Black students as measured by monthly reports submitted from CRPD by at least 50 percent.

“We still are looking at the disproportionality, we still need to make some adjustments with that. Just because our charges dropped doesn’t mean the disproportionality of our students dropped, so I think we need to be intentional about that,” said Kookier.

Kookier said they plan to have SRO’s begin wearing soft uniforms when students return from winter break. She also said the program hopes to work more with students next semester, educating them on how to interact with SRO’s.

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