Source: Sherman Publications

District beefs up security at OHS, OMS

by CJ Carnacchio

August 31, 2011

When Oxford students return to the high and middle schools for a fresh year of learning, they’ll encounter some new personnel roaming the halls – security guards.

Two security guard positions were added to OHS and one to OMS, along with a dean of students for grades 6-8.

“When you ask Oxford parents what they feel is the most important thing a public school building should provide, more often than not the answer is security,” according to a prepared statement issued by district officials. “The primary role of our new security personnel will be to organize, plan, implement and maintain a program of school safety and security. They will act as liaisons between (school) administration and public safety authorities for student management.”

The Leader asked if these security guards would be required to wear uniforms or be armed, however, the district failed to respond to those questions. The job descriptions provided by the district mentioned nothing about uniforms or arms.

(Note: After the Leader was published, a district representative sent the paper an e-mail indicating the security personnel would not be armed or wear uniforms. The Leader's questions regarding these issues were originally submitted to the district on Aug. 16)

One of the qualifications for the security guard positions was a “law enforcement background and/or experience (preferred to have been sworn in with badge).”

Among the guards’ listed duties are working with counselors and administration on at-risk student interventions; monitoring security cameras; supervising of parking lots and external school grounds; enforcing the student code of conduct; helping to arrange and conduct canine narcotics searches; working with local police and fire on school-related support issues; physical intervention to stop fights; and delivering passes and escorting students as assigned.

Each of the three guards will be paid $15 per hour and receive five paid vacation days. The guards will work from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on days when students are present.

In addition to a security guard, OMS will also employ a new dean of students, whose job will be to “monitor and supervise” students in grades 6-8.

“This individual will establish relationships with students and determine and implement appropriate actions to manage student conduct,” according to the district’s description of the position. “This individual will direct and supervise student programs, advise and implement district and building policy, and represent the district in matters pertaining to students’ supervision.”

According to Tim Loock, assistant superintendent of business and operations, the district has budgeted $100,000 for security at OHS and OMS during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The district’s addition of security personnel was a surprise to Oakland County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford Township substation.

“One of the security guys, I think from the middle school, came down and introduced himself,” he said. “I didn’t even know anything about it until he stopped in here.”

“I was never consulted about any options,” Patterson noted. “Nobody ever talked to me about anything. This is something (the district) totally did internally.”

During the 2010-11 school year, the sheriff’s department responded to 161 calls at the high school and 86 calls at the middle school. A majority of these calls involved assisting the fire department, however, the numbers also included criminal and/or juvenile complaints.

When asked for his opinion of the schools’ new security, Patterson replied, “This is something new that I’ve never had experience with as far as dealing with private security personnel – even if they are ex-police officers – in the schools. Time will tell on how that works out.”

“Their experience as law enforcement officers would help them as far as being witnesses and (knowing) how to gather information. There’s some positive things that could come from it,” Patterson noted.

However, Patterson pointed out the new security personnel would simply be adding a step to the sheriff’s department’s investigative process, not replacing it.

“It’s not going to stop what we do,” the sergeant said. “We still have to go there and make a report. We still have to investigate on our own . . . We’re still going to have to pull a car off the street and go up there.”

Patterson indicated his personal preference would have been to place a certified and active law enforcement officer from the sheriff’s department in the schools to serve in a liaison capacity.

“We’ve always had school liaisons and it’s worked out very well,” he explained. “Why pay for somebody that’s an ex-cop, when you can pay for somebody who’s a current cop – that works in conjunction with your existing law enforcement agency that you have servicing your township. We would all be on the same page then.”

A school liaison officer from the sheriff’s department carries a contract price of $125,135, which includes wages, benefits and a vehicle. That exceeds the $100,000 the district budgeted for security this year.

The district was originally looking at sharing the cost of a sheriff’s school liaison officer with Oxford Township, however, the latter decided it could not afford it. The district had budgeted $50,000 for a liaison officer in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

To Patterson, the benefits of an active police officer over a security guard are clear.

“Right from the moment go, you have somebody that can write their own report, do their own investigation, submit their stuff the prosecutor’s office. obtain their own warrants,” he said. “They can handle the thing from beginning to end, the whole nine yards.”

“In my opinion, they would have the authority to act on things as they see them,” Patterson explained. “Let’s say, worst case scenario, (there’s) an active shooter situation. (In that case), we have an armed police officer that’s trained and has the authority to act on anything and everything up there.”

According to Patterson, it’s his understanding the district’s security guards would not be armed.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be armed.”