'I want to build bridges': Officials make pitch for cops in Arlington Heights, Elk Grove schools
Officials in two Northwest suburbs want police officers to be inside local schools, but it'll be up to the respective school boards to decide.
Arlington Heights Police Chief Nick Pecora has proposed the addition of two full-time officers to work at the two middle schools in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, where a pair of officers already split their time among the district's nine schools. The officers also make the rounds at 10 other schools both public and private within the village boundaries.
In Elk Grove Village, Mayor Craig Johnson wants officers placed within Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 schools -- specifically, Grove Junior High School, which has seen an uptick in police calls. District 59 has six schools in Elk Grove Village, five in Mount Prospect, three in Des Plaines and one in Arlington Heights.
The requests come after Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 in March approved agreements with Wheeling and Buffalo Grove for three school resource officers. Wheeling cops will be assigned to Holmes and London middle schools and the elementary schools in the same attendance area, and a Buffalo Grove officer will be assigned to Cooper Middle School and nearby elementary buildings.
While Johnson's pitch is focused on school safety, Pecora's approach is increasing positive interactions with youth. The chief said it's something that's been lost since three officers assigned to the D.A.R.E. and Too Good for Drugs programs were laid off during the recession.
"I would attend the Too Good for Drugs graduation. I would see those beaming faces as the officer would call those kids up to the stage. And those fifth-graders -- I had to put my sunglasses on to keep the teeth from blinding me -- were so infatuated with the fact that they got to interact with police officers during that window that they received the curriculum," Pecora said at a recent District 25 board meeting.
"That's what we're missing is the connection. I want to build bridges. I want to get that rapport back out there and make those connections," Pecora said.
Since May, when the suggestion of adding officers first was made, Superintendent Lori Bein and school board members say they've fielded a number of strong opinions. Some argue cops in schools can have a negative impact on marginalized students, while others want armed and trained officers on campus in case of a school shooting.
"Those are realities in what people are thinking," Bein said. "It's not the reason we brought this topic to the board."
The proposal for two more cops isn't because of any increase in negative student behavior or rise in criminal activity in the schools, she added.
Bein and Pecora are drawing up a detailed school resource officer job description, contract and memorandum of understanding for the board's consideration as soon as Aug. 15. What's envisioned, the superintendent said, is for officers to teach additional safety classes to students, be available to school staff who provide mental health interventions, present parent education programs, and help direct traffic in mornings and afternoons.
The two officers currently assigned to Arlington Heights schools don't get involved in student discipline, Bein said.
Under the proposed arrangement, District 25 would pay the estimated $111,000 salaries of the two new officers, and the village would cover their benefits. Now, the village pays for everything for the two officers.
While District 25 has had two public meetings on the issue, District 59 could have its first discussion Aug. 7.