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Council to consider SRO program, school zone lighting on Monday

By Staff | Aug 21, 2010

With the 2010 – 2011 school year opening on Monday, city council will decide the fate of the School Resource Officer program during its regular meeting Monday night.
Funding the program at a cost of $438,350 would keep 11 officers and one supervisor in Cape middle and high schools for the 2011 fiscal year.
Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy urged council to consider funding the program earlier last week, saying that the program’s price tag doesn’t indicate the true scope of work for which SROs are responsible.
The chief spoke of the program’s “intangibles,” the level of interaction, and the bond that forms between students and SROs.
But Mayor John Sullivan isn’t so sure that the same bond couldn’t be formed with Lee County Sheriff deputies, who Sullivan speculated would take over the role of SRO if council does not support continuing the program.
“After the deputies have been there a while they will make connections with kids,” Sullivan said. “It might take an entire school year, but could still serve the same function.”
Sullivan said he has yet to make decision on whether he’ll support the program.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail was one of the most vocal supporters of the program this week.
McGrail feels the intangibles Murphy spoke of are not only a reality, but an absolute.
He said students are able to form a level of trust with SROs not afforded to others, and could help to deter problems on or off school grounds.
“This is the last thing we should try to cut and that’s because of the continuity the program provides,” McGrail said. “A sheriff’s deputy could only provide law enforcement … it’s that level of trust between the kids and the SRO, the continuity, that’s important.”
Murphy said the program really started in 1980, when Cape Coral High School was the first school in the city to have a full-time police officer on campus.
The program greatly expanded in 1985, and has come to employ police officers with special skill sets, who are attune to the needs of the schools and students, Murphy said.
Last year alone the 11 SROs responded to 4,500 incidents at Cape schools. There were 65 arrests, while many of the incidents dealt with discipline issues.
Murphy also said some of those incidents dealt with domestic situations in students’ homes.
Councilmember Pete Brandt said he wants to “shadow” an SRO to witness first hand the functions of their job, but has not found the time to do so.
Brandt wonders if the program could be slimmed down, by providing a single officer where high and middle schools are in close proximity, like Gulf Middle and Ida Baker High.
“I don’t see why one officer couldn’t split his duties between the two schools,” Brandt said. “I do think there’s room for reconsideration there.”
City council also is expected to vote whether to spend $45,000 on school signal “flashers” for Trafalgar and Skyline.
The cost for installing the lights has been as high as $270,000, but differing opinions from engineers have brought the cost down considerably.
Assistant City Manager Carl Schwing told council last week that Lee County is now offering six flashing signs at the total price tag of $45,000, and that more savings might be possible.
McGrail said there’s more advantage for the city then cost savings.
“The key point for the city is that the school board is assuming liability for this,” he said. “If the flashers don’t work or if there’s a problem, they’re assuming liability, not Cape Coral.”
Sullivan said he will likely support the item Monday, but still wonders what hidden costs, if any, are still out there.
He said he’s happy the county worked with the city to make this happen.
“We have to remember one thing, we’re the ones who wanted to put the lights up, not the county,” Sullivan said.
Challenger Middle School Principal Teri Cannady — who pushed for a speed zone in front of her school — said she feels council will ultimately support both the flashing signs and the SRO program.
“I believe council sees the value of this program,” she said. “One of the reasons you have the officer is for mentorship and open communication.”
City council meets on Monday, 4:30 p.m., at city hall.