Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein is concerned about the safety of students at Clearwater and Countryside High Schools. Citing the schools growing populations and alarming crime statistics, Klein has asked the City Council to fund a second School Resource Officer (SRO) for both schools during the 2004/05 school year.
The Clearwater Police Department has one permanent SRO at each of the High Schools. During the 2003/04 school year, Klein assigned a second SRO to each of the facilities, and applied for a Federal Grant to continue providing the second officer during 2004/05. Although the grant application was not rejected, the City has not received the funding; the Department of Justice has insufficient funds available for all the grant applications it received according to Klein.
During the 2003/04 school year, the four SRO's were involved with 991 investigations, 444 case reports and 303 arrests, Klein said. He also described the occurrence of several "major incidents" that required the response of multiple police officers:
Nick Grasso, Principal of Clearwater High School, has missed the presence of the second SRO. Although he claims that there have been no major incidents this year, he wants to use the second SRO to "run the perimeter of our campus, providing a high level of visibility to deter non-students from entering the facility during the school day."
Gary Schlereth, Principal of Countryside High School, said that the 57-acre size of his campus and a student population of 2387 drive the need for a second SRO. "The campus is too large for a single SRO to handle," he said, adding, "It helps to have a second SRO for backup."
Funding for the 2 additional SRO's will be shared by Pinellas County Schools, who will contribute $27,015, and the City, who will pick up the remaining $19,703 of the cost of providing each officer. The total cost of the two new SRO's for the 2004/05 school year is $93,436, which is money well-spent according to Klein. "I don't think we can wait to see if we get the Federal funds," Klein said, "The issue is safety, both for the students and officers."
Klein hopes to have the new temporary SRO's assigned within one month. He plans to reassign existing officers to SRO duty, and hire new officers to take their place on the streets. "I want to address this issue in a proactive manner before we have incidents at those schools," he said.
But Klein thinks that there should be a second SRO permanently assigned to each of Clearwater's High Schools. The issue, of course, is money; "This needs to have a permanent funding mechanism, preferably from Pinellas County Schools," Klein said.
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