By BOB SHRALUKA
School officials in Terre Haute are moving ahead with plans to put police officers with arrest powers in 12 schools at a cost of $353,000, with the Vigo County School Corp. to pay half of that amount.
How great a desire there is for something of that nature in Decatur is unknown, but one thing is sure, it would cost a bundle. A much-bigger problem is manpower (or womanpower).
"I just don't know where we would get them (trained officers) for all the schools," Decatur Police Chief Ken Ketzler said this week. Make no mistake, he's fully committed to the idea of officers in schools, but where sufficient numbers will be found is the key question.
The Decatur department currently is two officers shy of its full quota, in part because a member of the department, Kris Affolder, serves as the North Adams resource officer (SRO).
The City of Decatur is committed to filling the other vacancy, created by Jim Franze's leaving to become a deputy with Adams County Sheriff's Department. The field of applicants is down to something like 28 at this time, and it's going to take some time getting a new officer up to speed.
And that's the problem with providing an officer for every school: three if you're talking Northwest, Southeast and either the high school or middle school, five if St. Joe and Zion Lutheran are added.
"There's just no way we could do it right now. You're talking trained officers, actual police officers," Ketzler said.
It takes some four months to go through the application process to find someone, winnow the field, do interviews and testing — then 16 weeks of training at the police academy, followed by six months of probation. "So it takes about a year (to get a new officer ready),' the chief added.
Terre Haute officials say they are going to use off-duty or retired officers to provide an officer for each school.
That may not be an option here since many of the retired officers are either past the age where they would wish to get involved or already have a retirement job, such as Mike Cloud, now a security officer with the local courts.
Affolder spends most of his time at Bellmont high and middle schools, but will go to an elementary school when called if needed on a custodial issue or something of that nature. He takes his department days off when the schools are off, and with vacation time and all, is rarely available even in the sumer do help the police department. "So we've lost him for most of the year," the chief said.
Ås previously noted, Ketzler has no desire to lessen his department's commitment.
"The benefit is too great. We can't go backward," he said.
We remarked about the time a few years ago when a student at the high or middle school sought out the resource officer and informed him that another student had a gun in his backpack. The officer immediately took charge of the situation, which was not an immediate danger since the boy was only carrying it and had no plans for its use.
'"Yes, and the kids get to trusting the officer and they will tell him things, parties coming up, things like that." Ketzler pointed out. He added that many of the younger North Adams students don't know a school with an SRO since the program has been in existence here for several years, starting with sheriff's deputy Charlie Cook, who's now the RSO at Adams Central.
FOOTNOTE: Funding for the three SROs in Adams County — including Adams Central and South Adams — runs out this year, but an anonymous donor has already agreed to provide funding for three more years in all three school districts.
The donor wanted nothing said but it's already been mentioned twice publicly.