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Alexandria considering alternatives to funding school resource officers

Prompted by a question from City Council member Canek Aguirre, the city is reviewing alternative uses of funding that could be freed up if the city moves forward with plans to do away with the school resource officer position.

School resources officers (SROs) are police officers stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School and specialize in handling kids with emotional and education issues, search and seizure on school grounds, and school shooting situations.

The program started in 1997 but has gotten some pushback from students who claim the police officers contribute to an unsafe feeling for minority students at the schools. The issue has resurfaced with nationwide protests against police brutality last year, but there have been issues surrounding SROs in Alexandria schools in the past — namely when one shot his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

The city said the SRO program costs $823,907 — this doesn’t include roughly $27,000 in one-time costs for equipment and uniforms.

According to the report, the program costs:

1. Salary = $482,432
2. Benefits = $307,477
3. Vehicles = $31,798 per year (cost of 6 vehicles depreciation each year)
4. Travel / Training = $1,000
5. Office Supplies = $1,000
6. Membership / Subscriptions / Books = $200

Staff have four options for the funding, the first being to leave the program intact as-is. In our own super-unscientific poll, the majority of ALXnow readers said they were against taking funding away from the SRO program.

Another alternative option is investing that funding in a new behavioral health program. The program would pair two officers with two behavioral health specialists. One of the benefits of this option, staff noted in the report, would be expanded options to help provide not just in school, but by interfacing with other city programs that help address underlying problems like food insecurity, homelessness, and mental health issues.

The third option is investing the SRO funding into programs outlined in the Community Recovery Plan, which includes support for local nonprofits, eviction protection, and targeted financial support for some businesses (page 2.13 of the budget).

The last option would be allocating the funding cut from the SRO program into other city projects sidelined under the proposed budget, including a one-time bonus to city employees, expansion of the DASH bus network, affordable housing or cash capital investments (options are laid out on page 2.11 of the proposed FY 2022 budget).

Staff noted in the report that if the SRO program is eliminated, officers in those positions would be reassigned to other duties.

“If all or less than all of the 6 positions are not funded in the FY22 proposed budget, then any person in a position not funded would be retained and APD would use currently vacant positions or future vacant positions to absorb the personnel (i.e., attrition),” the city said in its report.

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