VERDE VALLEY -- Students are returning to school soon, but they will see less blue on campus this year. Several of the school resource officers that had been assigned to local schools in the past will not be returning to their campuses.
School officials are frustrated and disappointed that officers assigned to their campuses have not been funded again. It seems to be another state budget-cutting response, but some wonder if rural schools are being axed in favor of metro schools.
The Safety program, under which the officers are funded for their salary and benefits, was approved for 2012 for 104 of the 202 requests, Cottonwood Middle School Principal Denise Kennedy was told.
It's not clear how the distribution shakes out this year at the State Department of Education, but the Safety Program that places police officers and probation officers in schools seemed to have swept many officers out of the Verde Valley schools
An officer who was recently named to serve as the new SRO at Mingus Union High School Del Munday has not been supported with an approved grant. A position with a 20-year history in Clarkdale has ended. One officer position, staffed by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office for Verde Valley schools in unincorporated areas, has been approved serving schools in Verde Village, Cornville and Beaver Creek.
It is still unclear the outcome of two positions at Camp Verde High and Camp Verde Middle schools. The high school says Yavapai-Apache Police officer Desiree Trujillo will be returning, but they could not provide funding details. The middle school position has been a Camp Verde Marshal's officer in the past.
A grant for the School Resource Officer at Sedona Red Rock High School was also turned down.
Scott Mabery, now the Yavapai County Director of Juvenile Probation, was one of the first probation officers to be placed at a school in Arizona and worked at Mingus Union. He says that there were originally four SROs from his department placed in Yavapai County schools. This year, with a cut of the Chino Valley High post, the only position remaining is at Prescott High School.
The positions are approved for a three-year period, which Mingus Dean Allen Mitchell says is renewed each year. Mingus Union hoped to renew the three year grant this year, but was rejected by the Department of Education screening committee.
It was the same story with the School Resource Officer request at Cottonwood Middle School as well as Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary School.
Mitchell says a meeting was held between Mingus officials of the Cottonwood Police Department Thursday morning. Without the grant, a decision will be in the hands of the police department whether Officer Del Munday should stay at the school or return to patrol.
"They have been very supportive and we have a good working relationship," Mitchell says. "We will work hard to maintain that relationship."
The police officials say Chief Fanning will have the final say, but it might be possible to share a single officer between the high school and the middle school if the city supports it, since it would not be bound by the restrictions of the state grant program, which would exclude such an exchange.
Clarkdale Officer Robert Church is now scheduled to return to patrol duties Sunday. He has been a school resource officer in Clarkdale-Jerome for eight of the 20 years the program has been active. Former Clarkdale Chief Pat Haney was the school's first SRO.
Kathleen Fleenor, principal at the Clarkdale School, says she will appeal the rejection of her school's application. She says the screening system appears to have changed this year. She wants to make sure that the committee pays as much attention to rural Yavapai County schools as it does to large metro districts. She also questions the need for some huge metro districts to have three or four school resource officers at the expense of any officers in the rural parts of the state. "It is just as important to have that resource here," she says.
The officers, under the contract, must spend 180 hours in classrooms offering law-related education in a positive, not disciplinary, manner and to teach life-learning skills.
"One of the programs I had developed there was for a forensic science program working with the technology and science teacher in the junior high," Church says.
"We would do crime scene investigation stuff, teaching students to draw scale models, how to take pictures and collect evidence, all math and science inquiry skills. The younger students were taught personal awareness skills, such as 'good touch-bad touch,' 'don't go with strangers', 'always have a safety plan' and similar skills."
Church has also been active at the state level, teaching new SROs and planning policy for the grant program,
Scott Mabery says, 19 years later, he still sees former students who are now adults who have pursued careers in law enforcement, are attorneys or in victim's services.
"They started with a criminal justice course or teen court in high school. Others have said they have given up drugs or a life of crime," he says.
"The program is invaluable. Having an officer on campus is able to divert so many juveniles away from court and address issues there. It fosters a relationship, so kids don't feel alienated and adversarial toward police."