Source: Sherman Publications

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Editor's column
Joe from the Block

November 09, 2011

Lake Orion High School, with some 2,600 students, is one of the largest in the state.

It resembles a small city. There are students with various backgrounds. Teachers and administrators govern the massive building. The support staff keeps it running smooth. A police liaison officer helps keep the peace.

His job is anything but easy. One day late last month, the officer had to deal with a kid who threatened the school and a parent who got overly zealous with administrators and had to be arrested.

I know the police liaison officer also has led investigations into the theft of property in the school, issued disorderly conduct tickets, as well as caught kids doing illegal things on school grounds. I am sure there have been plenty of fights between students that he either helped stop cold or break up.

In addition, he has undoubtedly built long-lasting, positive relationships with many students and helped them get through tough times.

That is why it is imperative that school district, township and local law enforcement officials work together to figure out a way to keep this position in the high school during 2012 and beyond. There is simply no excuse for possibly eliminating this deterrence to trouble, a role model for students and valuable resource for the school's staff. It is on the cutting block now due to tight budgets.

The police liaison position currently is funded jointly by the schools and township, and staffed by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. Our community's economic struggles in recent years that have decimated property values and tax revenues have forced the township to cut the police budget in the past and again for next year. Significant cuts to school funding by the state have forced our district to also look for savings.

The bottom line: the current funding model for the police liaison position apparently does not work. School administrators say it is too rich for them. (I do wonder if tapping into the district's equity fund could be an option for next year?) The two current police budget proposals before the township board for 2012 have eliminated this position, as well. It is time everyone work together to come up with a creative solution to this dilemma which benefits and protects our kids first.

If the current law enforcement agency in place cannot meet the budgetary realities of the school district and township to provide a police presence, then school administrators should be free to look for other options, including use of the Lake Orion Police Department. The township should support this 100 percent. If the taxpayers actually get more for less in this situation, that is a good thing.

Of course, this means the township will have to give the officer(s) assigned to the schools limited arresting authority on school grounds, if they are not already county deputies.

It is too bad if such a move does not sit well with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. Replacing them may be the only option available to keep a law enforcement presence in our schools. Besides, the township is in the sheriffs' jurisdiction, so they would still be called on first if the police liaison officer needs support at a school.

If the Sheriff's Department does see a value in the high school position, then it needs to compromise with the schools and townshp. For starters, the current budget proposals I have seen for 2012 include $237,000 in sheriff overtime pay for next year. I am sure some of this will be legitimately needed, but maybe there are ways to reduce overtime to help the community afford the school officer.

The Oxford School District faced this same challenge a while back. According to a district administrator, they brought in their own employees to stretch the budget further and maintain a security presence at the high school. There are now two security people at Oxford High School for the cost of one sheriff deputy, the administrator said. I do wonder what kind of authority they have to actually detain someone or make an arrest. My calls to the Oxford principal were not answered.

I know managing distressed budgets is not an easy task. I also know the leaders of our school district, township and local law enforcement agencies say they want to do the right thing when it comes to protecting our kids in school. Let's put the rhetoric aside and make it happen.