Elgin City Council plans to continue funding school resource officers
Elgin City Council members have tentatively agreed to continue funding the use of school resource officers, saying they will be an important part of the city's new Youth Empowerment Program.
The SRO program, which was started in partnership with Elgin Area School District U-46 in 1987, supplies police officers at Abbott, Ellis, Kimball and Larsen middle schools, as well as Elgin, Larkin and Gifford Street high schools. One officer is assigned full-time to each school. The $1.1 million cost is shared by the city and the district.
The issue proved divisive during funding discussions last year, with community and council members raising concerns that a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students were being arrested by officers.
Council member Tish Powell said some changes in the contract, including an emphasis on safety rather than the SROs being involved in discipline, made her comfortable in voting for the measure. It passed unanimously during last week's committee of the whole meeting, and a final vote will be held at an upcoming council meeting.
The vote came on the same night as a presentation on the city's new Youth Empowerment Program, which hopes to steer local youth, who would otherwise find themselves in contact with the police, into better choices and social services that will help address underlying problems. The program would enlist the help of local mentors and community organizations.
"The SROs are heavily involved in the Youth Empowerment Program," Council member Corey Dixon said during the meeting. "They have skin in the game with the program."
Since October 2020, the police department has been reviewing its response to interactions with youth, specifically within the school environment. The implementation of the Youth Empowerment Program is one manifestation of the review. The program, which will be operational for the 2021-22 school year, aims to decrease juvenile violence, arrests, gang involvement and high school dropout rates while increasing high school graduation rates. The school resource officers will work with the police department's special investigations unit, community members, social service providers and community-based organizations.
"I feel comfortable having our officers there, I just don't want solely Black and brown kids being the ones arrested or detained," Dixon said. "We're working on the program to help prevent that and increase communication," he said. "Hopefully we can have some better outcomes."