Opinions divided on school resource officer

August 29, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Each year between September and June, the Greencastle Police Department handles dozens of calls from the Greencastle-Antrim School District, but whether the situation warrants a full-time officer in the district is a question dividing elected officials in town.

The Borough of Greencastle applied for two grants in June to hire a school resource officer at the request of Police Chief John Phillippy.

Having been denied one grant, the borough welcomed representatives from Antrim Township and the Greencastle-Antrim School Board to discuss a cost-sharing contingency plan that would divide the financial burden of the officer among all three taxing entities.

While Borough Councilman Harry Foley said the idea of a full-time school resource officer was well-received at a joint meeting of the boards in July, individual opinions on the issue remain polarized.


Only a few of the area's elected representatives agreed with Foley that the position is needed. The rest either disagreed or deferred to the wisdom of the school district.

"The question of whether the school district needs a resource officer or not is best answered by the school officials," said Mayor Robert Eberly, head of the Greencastle Police Department. "In the meeting with them, they seemed to acknowledge the need. I have reviewed the incidents where the Greencastle Police Department has responded and by that review, it would suggest the need is real."

"I am not convinced that we need this school resource officer mostly because of what I read in the newspaper," said Councilwoman Michele Emmett. "I would certainly like to hear more information as to why a school resource officer is needed."

Phillippy said in the 2008-09 school year, police responded to more than 100 calls from the school.

The school does not make a large number of calls, and the number cited by Phillippy includes times when an officer stopped by the school for any reason, even to eat lunch with students, Superintendent Greg Hoover said.

"I don't think that we have so many crimes taking place in the school that we need to have a police officer on duty, but I think their presence will help reduce some crimes," he said.

Saying 100 calls were made to the school district is skewing the facts, said School Board Director Paul Politis.

At the Aug. 20 school board meeting, Greencastle-Antrim High School Principal Ed Rife said only a few of the reported incidents in the last five years were drug- and alcohol-related. Two calls were made for fights last year and one weapon call was placed to police, he said.

"Mr. Hoover said there were 100 calls, but it sounded like only about 10 of them were actual incidents. The rest were just police making friendly calls, eating lunch at the school and this sort of thing," he said. "It is not something that is a daily problem in the schools."

School Director Eric Holtzman said he also is not convinced the position would significantly improve the school.

"Greencastle has five assistant principals, and I think the goal of having those assistant principals was to interact with the students and try to, you know, spot problems and identify issues before they occur," he said.

Director Arnie Jansen agreed.

"We hired the administrators at the level we did so that we would influence the same thing (as a school resource officer). I feel we already have the staff in place to handle dealing with the kids and their troubles," he said. "I personally feel I don't believe we need the position."

While few officials felt the district absolutely needed the position, a few acknowledged its potential benefits.

"From what I have determined in my research, it has been beneficial in other school districts that have a school resource officer," said Supervisor Fred Young.

At least three Franklin County school districts employ a school resource officer.

The position is more than a cop in the school, said Waynesboro School Resource Officer Travis Carbaugh.

"Being in the schools is about building relationships with the kids," he said. "The omnipresence of an officer can deter a kid from doing something criminal."

The link between officer and student is of great benefit, said School Director Dr. G. William Thorne.

"I think the resource officer would provide a very good link between the police force and the school, and help us in some areas as drug education, those sorts of things," he said.

Just as not every elected representative is convinced the position is needed, not everyone feels that taxpayers should help foot the bill.

Phillippy originally estimated the position to cost $66,000. His latest estimate is $75,000 per year, an increase of $9,000.

Because no grant would fund the position indefinitely, Phillippy suggested sharing the cost between all three entities.

"I don't think we (the township) should be involved in it at all," said Supervisor James Byers.

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