Prescott Police Department proposes new officer to be proactive on school danger

Prevention vs. reaction

Santa Fe, Texas, resident, Lori Simmons prays for healing in front of 10 wooden crosses at Santa Fe High School on Monday, May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe. In response to this recent shooting, a “school liaison officer” could soon join the Prescott Police Department. The liaison officer would focus mainly on growing concerns about school safety in the community. (Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Santa Fe, Texas, resident, Lori Simmons prays for healing in front of 10 wooden crosses at Santa Fe High School on Monday, May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe. In response to this recent shooting, a “school liaison officer” could soon join the Prescott Police Department. The liaison officer would focus mainly on growing concerns about school safety in the community. (Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)

In a preemptive move that aims at keeping Prescott off the tragic school-shooting list that includes Parkland, Santa Fe, and Newtown, a new officer could soon join the ranks of the Prescott Police Department.

A “school liaison officer” was one of three new positions the Prescott City Council considered this week in its proposed budget for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year.

The new officer’s duties would focus squarely on the growing concerns about school safety.

Prescott Police Chief Debora Black told the council that the officer would be responsible for working with the 17 public, charter, and private schools in the community.

Along with suggesting possible safety measures on the school grounds, the officer also would deal with reports of students doing, saying or writing things that raise red flags about possible school violence.

‘ON EVERYONE’S MINDS’

After 17 people died in a February shooting in Parkland, Florida, Black said the need to take a proactive stance took on more urgency. Then just last week, 10 more people died in the May 18, school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

“Whenever something happens around the country, it is definitely on everyone’s minds,” Black said.

“We want to do what we can to avoid any such tragedy in Prescott.”

The reaction from the City Council was mostly positive this week, but a vote is still to come. Tentative and final budget approvals are planned for June and July.

If the council ultimately approves the position, Black said an officer is already trained and ready to take on the duties.

Once on the job, she said, “The first step (for the officer) would be to develop a relationship with the principals of the schools. He would immediately become a resource.”

While some schools might decide they don’t need the help, Black expects others to reach out to the new officer for ideas on how to improve their facilities for safety.

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Santa Fe High School freshman Jai Gillard writes messages on each of the 10 crosses in front the school Monday, May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe. (Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)

The officer would also work with the schools to ensure that “their policies about when to notify us are clear,” Black said.

BEST PRACTICES

Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Joe Howard voiced support for the new city position Wednesday, noting that he has been involved in preliminary discussions.

“It would be geared toward helping us with our school safety plan, and I think it’s a great idea,” Howard said.

PUSD already has a “threat assessment” process in place that involves getting the police department involved as soon as a law had been broken, or if “at any point we feel others are in danger,” Howard said.

Still, he sees a number of benefits to the new position. Because the officer would be working with all of the schools in the city, and not just those within PUSD, Howard foresees the sharing of effective safety measures.

“(The officer) will be able to pull together the best of the ideas — the best practices,” Howard said.

The new school liaison officer position would be in addition to the school resource officer for Prescott High School — for which the school district has agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost.

Both of the positions are listed in the city’s proposed budget at an annual cost of $70,358, which includes salary and benefits, said City Budget and Finance Director Mark Woodfill.

While PUSD will cover three-fourths of the cost of the resource officer, the city would pay the entire amount for the liaison officer.

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Law enforcement officers respond to Santa Fe High School after an active shooter was reported on campus, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. ( Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)

“We’ve always had a great relationship with the Prescott Police Department, and this just enhances that,” Howard said of the new liaison officer.

Along with the two school-related positions, the city budget is also proposing the addition of a full-time city court clerk position. The position previously was full-time temporary, so the change would not involve an additional cost.

Offsetting the cost of the new positions is the recent retirement of Water Resource Director Craig McConnell, said City Manager Michael Lamar.

Meanwhile, the two remaining water-resource employees will be moved to the city’s public works department, Lamar said.

The City Council will consider tentative approval of the 2019 budget on June 26, and final adoption on July 10.