OV expands offer of SROs

The Oro Valley Town Council has decided to expand its offer of Oro Valley Police Department-assigned officers to every K-12 school in the community.

The town council’s May 3 decision reads that each school should be invited to “have a school resource officer, or other alternate security” as approved by OVPD. If an SRO is assigned, “Oro Valley shall request a reimbursement from each school” for the cost of its officer, the policy reads.

In addition, the OVPD, as well as the town’s emergency management and safety coordinator, should “annually review and provide input” on every school’s security and emergency plans.

“We would be responsible to ensure they’re in compliance,” OVPD Chief Kara Riley told the town council.

For many years, OVPD has provided town-funded SROs at Amphitheater Public Schools within the community. That’s now a total of six officers, plus a sergeant, in the SRO program.

“We had decided as a community years ago this was important, the safety of our children,” said Councilmember Steve Solomon, who brought forward the expansion of the SRO effort in April, amid ever-increasing worries about school violence across the nation. “This should be, I would think, a pretty obvious policy this council would want.”

In April, Solomon proposed a 200-student minimum enrollment for a school to be eligible for SRO placement. “I’m open to discussions as to whether we have a minimum number or not,” he said in May.

“Student populations are going to vary,” Mayor Joe Winfield said, pointing out Immaculate Heart School, a faith-based pre-K-12 school in Oro Valley, has 196 students. The mayor recommended “perhaps we not use a number.”

Before broadening the SRO program, “I feel like we would need to know what schools we’re talking about, and how many there would be,” Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett said.

Solomon, his voice rising, asked that council not “get hung up in minor technicalities.”

“I know this is a tempting subject to be emotional about,” said Barrett, who has school-aged children. But, she continued, “Arizona’s unique,” with an array of public, charter, faith-based and private schools of assorted sizes. Along with Amphitheater schools, Oro Valley has charter schools, such as Basis Oro Valley and Leman Academy of Excellence Oro Valley, and faith-based schools such as Immaculate Heart, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, and Casas Christian School.

Jonathan Rothschild, attorney for the town council, provided clarity on SRO suitability in a follow-up email.

“The town is aware that the Arizona Constitution provides that no public money shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious establishment,” Rothschild said. “The town may provide SROs in public, private or charter schools. To provide that service to religious schools, the town must be fully compensated.”

This year, the Amphi district has contributed a total of $52,985 toward the expense for one officer at Canyon del Oro High School. That’s “less than a police officer reimbursement,” Riley said. Michelle Valenzuela, director of communications for Amphi schools, said the proposed 2023-’24 Amphi budget does contain an additional $25,000 to the town for SRO reimbursement.

Security concerns are not limited to public school districts.

On April 5, according to a town report, OVPD learned of threats made by a student at Leman/Oro Valley. A juvenile was arrested. “The threats were isolated, and no general threat to school safety was believed to have been present,” the town said.

Then, on April 7, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, a grade 6-12 school on the east side of Oracle Road in Oro Valley, contacted OVPD about a threat made by a student, the town report continued. The student, 18, was arrested.

Riley said OVPD has been “in talks” with Leman/Oro Valley, which wants an SRO at its K-8 school along La Canada north of Tangerine. Katie Determan, chief executive officer of Leman, said the school has applied for a $175,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Education and its School Safety Program to fund an SRO on the Oro Valley campus.

“We have not received formal approval yet but anticipate that the approval will come soon given Tom Horne's (Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction) support for SROs in all Arizona schools,” Determan said. “We are fortunate to have the support of OVPD and Chief Riley that has allowed us to work towards this endeavor for next school year.”

Riley said grant funding “has increased significantly for SRO programs,” and she is encouraging schools to seek that money. “There are lots more opportunities coming for this program in the future.”

Barrett, concerned about the expense, liked the idea of requesting reimbursement from any school where an SRO is placed. “That may encourage schools to apply for grant funding,” she said.

“I’m not in any way suggesting we don’t have a wonderful SRO program,” Barrett said. “We already have excellent security, an excellent police department, an excellent SRO program.”

Solomon supported giving Riley “more leverage” in approaching all schools, reviewing and discussing their security and emergency plans, and determining “which schools are most in need” of help.

Rothschild said any “arrangement the town makes with each individual school” regarding SRO placement or security review “will have to be made on a case-by-case basis and may include consideration of how they are categorized by the state.”

Riley is pleased to have Louie Gonzales, Oro Valley’s emergency management and safety coordinator, coordinate with OVPD and assist with school safety assessments. “He is a gem, a wonderful resource we work with,” the chief said. “He’s wanting to get more involved with the review of plans.”

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