Ann Arbor school officials: No plans to reinstate police liaison officers
Police liaison officers will not be returning to Ann Arbor high schools this year despite the urging of some parents, district officials say.
AP file photo
A parent raised the question of whether the officers would return during the Board of Education meeting last week in response to rumors circulating at the Ann Arbor Open School that officials were considering bringing the officers back for this school year.
The district eliminated its three police liaison officers in June, when the board approved $3.84 million in cuts en route to passing a balanced, $188.5 million budget for the 2012-13 academic year.
The parent who addressed the board advised district officials not to bring back the officers, but other parents have contacted board members and administrators in the months since the decision asking for the district to reconsider.
“We can’t,” Green said. “We’re looking at another close to $20 million from the budget that we’re going to have to cut again next year. It wouldn’t make sense.”
Parent Scott Farrell said he received a letter from the AAO Coordinating Council, the K-8 school’s version of a parent-teacher-student organization, stating the topic would be discussed at last week’s school board meeting. The AAO Coordinating Council posted a notice on its website, as well as a list of duties, patrols and investigative services the liaison officers provided to AAO.
Farrell called the district and learned that the board did not have any items on its agenda relating to the police liaison officers, but came to the meeting anyway.
“There has been a good deal of talk about how to find funding to restore these positions,” he said, but he urged board members to allow children to attend school “without the presence of police.”
“Studies have shown that students learn best when they are in an environment free from fear,” Farrell said. “This is why we espouse a zero tolerance policy toward bullying. It is perhaps somewhat counterproductive then to replace this with police liaisons.”
School board trustee Susan Baskett said she has not heard of any organized effort to bring back the liaison officers.
With it costing $350,000 in total for the officers’ services, it was somewhat of an easy decision for Ann Arbor school board members, who ended the 50-plus year contract with the Ann Arbor Police Department with little fanfare in June.
Vice President Christine Stead was the only trustee to express uneasiness with cutting the positions — primarily because she did not have sufficient information from the district about the officers’ roles in the schools to understand the impact of the cut, she said.
Farrell also cited a “lack of accessible local data” in his statement to board members Wednesday. He presented national data from several studies showing that “children with disabilities and children of color are disproportionately affected by police in schools, leading to decreased motivation and increased drop-out rates.”
“Police liaisons in schools provide a means to funnel kids into the juvenile justice system,” Farrell said.
Police officers had been stationed in the Ann Arbor Public Schools since the mid- to late-1960s. Most recently, the officers were assigned to Ann Arbor’s three primary high schools — Huron, Pioneer and Skyline. Each of the three officers also served the feeder elementary and middle schools that fed into their particular high school.
While Ann Arbor Public Schools paid the officers’ salaries, all reports or documentation of incidents made by the police liaisons were deemed “official police reports and property of the AAPD” and were never retained by the district, said spokeswoman Liz Margolis.
If the district needed a copy of a report — for a student discipline hearing, for example — it requested one from the police department, she said.
"...If the incident happened on school property, it will mean that the district's disciplinary policies come into play," Margolis said, adding police action or charges would be separate from district action. "They follow separate paths."
Ann Arbor Deputy Chief Greg Bazick confirmed Margolis' assessment of the liaison officers' role in incidents at AAPS. He said the process of investigating a larceny or an assault, for example, would be no different than if the officer were dispatched to the school or to a store down the street.
“If the incident does not have legal ramifications and can be addressed through the district's Rights and Responsibilities Guidelines, then the liaison officer is not involved,” Margolis said.
The benefit to having officers stationed at the schools was they often were involved in counseling troubled youth, acting as social workers in some instances, providing education and awareness of substance abuse and risky behavior to classrooms and engaging in other community policing efforts, Bazick said. He added community policing essentially is a "deliberate and focused" initiative to integrate police officers with the community to "problem solve and empower the community to self regulate."
"Police officers are never going to be able to solve all of the problems with society or in a neighborhood or an institution on their own. ... It's about acting as a team," he said. "Police officers bring in different training ... and they are legally vested with the authority to arrest and provide other enforcement" but they are just one piece of the puzzle.
While stationed at AAPS, police liaison officers did not provide any regular summaries or presentations to administrators about the incidents they responded to, their observations from spending time at the schools or other activities they participated in at the buildings, Margolis said. They also were not contractually obligated to do so.
"The district maintained close contact throughout the year with the police administration on the ongoing performance of the officers," Margolis said. "If there were any performance issues, those were addressed immediately with the officers' superiors."
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
He said there is no existing documentation of how hours were spent at the schools: "We wouldn't have anything that is not anecdotal."
"The bureau did not require a daily log of activities. ...The officers would check in with the supervisors, though not with any hard and fast frequency."
He said the sergeants used to meet with school administrators at the beginning of each academic year and, when possible, at the end of the year to "debrief" or get feedback on any enhancements the officers could make to the service they provided.
In the past, Ann Arbor school board members asked for a report on the police liaison officers, their duties and impact, the number of incidents reported on by the officers and other information, Stead said. However, there was never one in her years on the board, she added.