The beginning of 2019 could be back-to-school time for the Portage Police Department.
The Portage Common Council got an update Thursday on a pending agreement between the city and the Portage Community School District to dedicate a police officer primarily to the city’s schools.
Mayor Rick Dodd said the Common Council would vote on the matter if the Portage School Board approves the agreement. It was on the agenda Thursday to give council members the opportunity to ask questions or suggest amendments to the agreement.
The agreement, as proposed, calls for the school resource officer to start work Jan. 1 and remain on the job through August 2021. The officer primarily would work in the schools during the 180 days of the academic year, and would be expected to be present at special school-related events, such as home football games.
The officer could also be assigned to general police duties, particularly in cases when there’s an emergency or investigation in the city. In summer when school’s out, the officer either would be assigned to patrol or take vacation, said City Administrator Shawn Murphy.
The Portage Police Department currently does not have an officer dedicated to the schools.
One key reason for creating the position is to work directly with students, faculty and administration, to be a presence in the schools and to relieve other officers, as much as possible, of the need to respond to calls in the schools.
When Dodd said police had responded to more than 500 school-related calls last year, Police Chief Ken Manthey didn’t confirm the number, but acknowledged, “It was a lot.”
According to the proposed agreement, the school resource officer would enforce laws in the school, possibly including issuing juvenile citations to students. But the officer would not intervene in cases when school disciplinary or policy rules are being broken, unless the situation appears on the verge of escalating to a point where there could be danger to students, staff or faculty.
The job description also includes an educational component for things like alcohol and drug awareness, crime prevention, bicycle and vehicle safety and careers in law enforcement.
Murphy said the agreement, if adopted by both the Common Council and the school board, would run from Jan. 1 through August 2021 — and, he hopes, much longer.
“We are confident that this would benefit both the city and the school district,” he said.
Under the proposed agreement, the officer would be a city employee, and his or her direct supervision would come primarily from the police department.
However, the school district would pay two-thirds of the approximate annual cost of $110,505, with the city picking up the remainder of the cost.
That includes not only salary and benefits, but also a fully equipped squad car and other equipment, such as firearms, handcuffs and radio.
Council member Dennis Nachreiner said the equipment costs, about $6,635, likely only would apply in the first year of the agreement. The squad car costs, about $56,450, would be spread over five years, he said.
School Superintendent Margaret Rudolph said her responsibility would include not only overseeing the school district’s budget for the resource officer, but also helping select the officer and maintaining accountability.
“We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate,” she said.
The only suggestion for a tweak in the proposed agreement came from council member Mark Hahn, a former Portage police officer, who said he would favor clarifying that the officer should seek approval from the police chief, and not the superintendent, for any flexibility in work hours.
Although no vote was taken, all council members expressed support for the school resource officer program.
Council member Bill Kutzke said schools and police need to work more closely together.
“In this modern world, we’ve got to have this function out there,” he said.