An element of public safety in any community is the relationship between police and youth.
Maricopa Police Department has provided officers to school campuses for years as school resource officers, with the numbers varying, but it’s not cheap. It is also not a certainty.
Last year, Maricopa Unified School District had only one SRO, an officer at the high school, enhancing the presence of hired security staff. The SRO is not just a cop on campus.
“School Resource Officers add a great deal to our school environment,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Not only do they provide law-related education, the presence of the MPD adds a sense of safety and security for students, staff and parents.”
The positions have always been grant-funded through the City of Maricopa in an agreement between City Hall and schools. If the city does not land the grant, the position is eliminated.
For the new city budget, the City is applying for a grant to fund three SROs. City Manager Rick Horst said the three-year grant would fund 75%. The other 25% would be split between the City and participating schools. MUSD indicated its interest in participating in a letter to City Hall.
High schools and middle schools tend to be priorities for SRO postings, forming relationships with teens. But both the schools and MPD would like those relationships to be formed even younger.
“In an ideal world, we would have a member of the Maricopa Police Department at every school,” Lopeman said.
However, the City must be awarded the grant, which is not guaranteed. If the grant is awarded, the City and school district must lock in their budgetary obligations for the three years.
“We’re in a good position because we’re a growth city,” Horst said. “We know we’re going to adequately staff police officers as we go anyway. If we were a built-out city, I’d probably be a little reluctant because we may not have the ability to retain their services after the grant period of three years.”
Horst said the positions would be filled by new employees. “We’ll make it clear upfront that this is contingent upon continued grant funds.”
The SROs are not the only positions for which the City has hopes for grants. One of those, a victim youth advocate, is also somewhat related to public safety, helping young victims of crime.
“This is a grant that would fund a position at 100% at no cost to the city whatsoever,” Horst said. “In essence, if we get the grant, we’ll hire somebody. If the grant’s not funded in subsequent years, the position will not continue to exist.”
The final grant-funded position the City applied for was in transit. It would allow the City to move a City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) employee from part-time to full-time. Without the grant, the employee would continue as is.