A difficulty finding people in law enforcement who want to work in schools as school resources officers is forcing the Carthage School District and Police Department to rethink how they keep local schools safe.

A difficulty finding people in law enforcement who want to work in schools as school resources officers is forcing the Carthage School District and Police Department to rethink how they keep local schools safe.
Carthage Police Chief Greg Dagnan unveiled a plan last month that would increase the number of school resource officers, or SROs, in Carthage from two to three with two of them answering to the school administrators directly.
All three officers would be paid by the city, but the district would reimburse the city 100 percent of the costs of two of the SROs, a change from the current plan where the district pays 75 percent of the costs of two SROs.
Those two officers would also work under nine-month contracts, similar to teachers, instead of the full year, like the two current officers.

Dagnan said while CPD is authorized to have two SROs, it has had only one, Officer Jeff Fries, for almost a year now.
“Nobody really wants to do the job,” Dagnan said. “It's very difficult to get people who have spent $6,000 of their own money to go to the academy, to then go to the schools. Often times in the past we had someone internally that wanted to go, but with police work the way it is right now, you know a lot of our old-timers have retired so we've got a bunch of newer officers. The heart of our force is those guys that have been there 10 or 15 years and they do not want to go to the school.”
Dagnan said under the current way of doing things, one officer is based in the high school and another officer is supposed to be based in the junior high.
However, when one of the officers receives a serious complaint, such as a child who tells him he or she has been sexually assaulted, that officer has to investigate that crime, which often means leaving the school.
“Jeff investigates the case because he's an SRO, but then that investigation almost immediately takes him out of the school,” Dagnan said. “He'll go to the child advocacy center, he'll interview the suspects. The school is unprotected for that day.”
Dagnan said he frequently gets calls from the schools asking where is the SRO?
“I want to get away from the calls from the school, hey where's the SRO?” Dagnan said. “Well he's working a rape that he just got. Well, ok, why isn't someone standing here at the door to the school like we want? Well, because we don't have that many people.”
Dagnan said Fries also serves as the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program instructor in the fifth grade.
That job takes him to the Carthage Intermediate Center for a significant amount of time during the winter and fall.
“One of the things that happens is Jeff is the DARE officer, and he's a great DARE officer, he goes to the intermediate center to teach DARE and then there's no one at the High School,” Dagnan said. “So the district want to either find someone else to teach DARE on a contract basis or find someone to just come in when he's teaching DARE so there's always someone at least the two major schools.”

New plan
Dagnan said there's precedent across the state for having officers work under the authority and command of the school district.
He said the current plan keeps in place the experienced SRO, Fries, who enters the second year of a three-year agreement this year to work as SRO, while hopefully bringing in two new people to help.
“Most of the school districts, the city will hire the SRO and they work for the school and the city is out of it,” Dagnan said. “I think Mark Baker, wisely, wants to keep that transitional guy in there because he's like, I'm afraid we're going to hire these SROs and they're not going to know anything and something bad's going to happen. There are several models like this.”
Dagnan said what happens with these officers over the summer is mostly up to the people hired for the positions.
“Truthfully I think it's going to depend on who we hire,” Dagnan said. “There will be some people who say, you're paying me for nine months, I'm working nine months. There will be other people who say, my actual goal is to work for the Carthage police department, so I want to work in the summer, but I think it'll have to be a separate contract, separate issue. If we decide to do that, that's something I don't know the answer to right now.”
The plan still has to be approved by the Carthage City Council Public Safety Committee, the full Council and the School Board.