East Aurora High will get full-time sheriff's deputy
East Aurora High School will have a Kane County sheriff's deputy as a school resource officer for the first time thanks to a pending agreement.
The plan is part of a new approach by the sheriff's office that prioritizes the public safety of local schools. Sheriff Ron Hain announced the plan to Kane County Board members Thursday.
The Aurora Police Department already has an officer at the school. But school officials wanted to add an additional officer and found the police department didn't have the staffing to accommodate the request. That's when Hain saw an opportunity to address one of his priorities.
"The places in unincorporated Kane County that are our biggest populations during the day, Monday through Friday, are our high schools," Hain said in an interview. "So, to me, I would rather lose a deputy from a patrol car in favor of putting that deputy in a school. That's a No. 1 priority, protecting our children. So why would we not support that request? That's a no-brainer."
It wasn't such a no-brainer back in 2016. That year, a dispute over the costs of providing school resource officers and depleted staffing led former Sheriff Don Kramer to remove officers from Burlington and Kaneland schools.
Public pressure, and an agreement by the school districts to pick up the entire cost, reversed that decision. Even then, the officers weren't in the schools every day.
Now Hain is working to repair those relationships.
"That was a very politically unpopular move to have our school districts take more money away from students for those officers," Hain said.
The agreement with East Aurora, and new contracts with Burlington and Kaneland, will revert to a 50/50 cost-sharing model. Each school will have a dedicated, full-time officer. The deputy for East Aurora will serve in a supportive role to the Aurora police officer already on duty.
Hain said he can make that move because he's worked to restore most of the deputies who were out on medical leave to active duty. During the height of the school resource officer controversy in 2016, Kramer said he had 18 vacancies because of the number of people on leave. Hain said there are two officers on leave now and one of those will return to duty within the next few weeks.
He said he's also "aggressively" hiring to fill other vacancies. A record number of people passing the most recent sheriff's deputy testing will help that effort.
Kane County Board member Anita Lewis' district borders East Aurora High School. She called the pending agreement a welcome improvement in relations between the county and the Aurora area.
"The school district is just thrilled with the partnership," Lewis said. "They were really in need, and the Aurora Police Department was not able to fill that gap. Sometimes Aurora and the county almost seem to butt heads, and this is just great cooperation to see, especially during this gang season."