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Council unanimously OKs SRO program

By Staff | Aug 23, 2010

The School Resource Officer program will live on for at least one more year in Cape Coral, though the program’s future beyond 2011 is unknown.
The Cape City Council unanimously voted to approve the project Monday, which, valued at $438,350, keeps 11 officers and one supervisor in the city’s high and middle schools through FY 2011.
The decision was supported, in part, by a majority of council members who felt there was little time to develop any viable alternatives.
With the school year already in motion, Councilmember Bill Deile said there were probably more cost efficient methods to achieve the same results, but little luxury to discover them.
“We don’t have much choice to go ahead with this because of the timing,” Deile said. “It might not be the most cost effective … but we won’t know until we have time to investigate it.”
Principals from local schools, along with Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy, spoke highly of the program’s “intangibles,” singling out the interaction between students and SROs.
Cape Coral High Principal Eric McFee said 2,000 students, 180 staff members, and 700-800 parents come through the doors of his school on a daily basis.
Those numbers alone warrant the presence of a police officer, and that the responsibilities of the SRO have been misrepresented.
“They do not just sit around all day, they are very active with the kids,” McFee said. “We have 3,000 people walking through my doors on a daily basis … we need the SRO officers to stay in the Cape.”
If the SRO program was not approved, it was assumed by council that Lee County Sheriff’s deputies would take over the role.
Mayor John Sullivan said the city needs to “put some pressure” on Lee County to “take up some of the slack” of the program’s cost.
Sullivan said he’s not entirely certain the county could not do the same job as Cape police officers in the role, especially given time to get to know the students and the schools.
“We don’t know if they would do a better job or a worse job,” Sullivan said.
Councilmember Erick Kuehn suggested putting young teachers in the hallways to police the actions of students, or rely on volunteers, possibly retired police officers, to man the SRO program.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said he received statistics that showed 20 percent of all crime in the city is committed by juveniles, and dropping the SRO program, at least for now, would cause those percentages to rise.
“We get an excellent return on our investment,” Chulakes-Leetz said.
City Manager Gary King said he would actively pursue other viable options between now and next year, when the SRO will come up for approval again.
Until then, Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the SROs will keep the schools safe, and keep a finger on the pulse of gang activity among kids.
“My daughter lives in L.A., it (youth gangs) is a fact of life in L.A. … we are fortunate we don’t have that level of problem in our community,” McGrail said.
City council unanimously supported continuing the SRO program for another fiscal year.

In other news, council also unanimously supported installing flashing lights along Trafalgar Parkway in front of Challenger Middle School at a cost of $45,000.