A Valuable Resource
Dayton P.D. Seeks Funds As Post-Newtown Patrol Puts Strain On Manpower
Posted: February 4, 2013
Lt. Daniel Hanlon (right) stands guard with Dayton Police Chief D.L. Conley during a class change at Wilbur S. Pence Middle School on Thursday. Since the Newtown shootings, the Dayton P.D. has had officers at Pence throughout the school day. But that has stretched the department’s manpower to its limits, a situation Conley hopes to alleviate by hiring another officer. (Photos by Michael Reilly)
Hanlon high-fives students M.J. Dandridge (right) and Channing Crouch at Pence last week.
Since Dec. 15, a day after 26 people were gunned down at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the department has placed officers in Wilbur S. Pence Middle School whenever students are present.
Officers have also kept a closer watch on the Dayton Learning Center.
But with the added responsibility comes a need for more manpower, something the department hopes to fill with funding it is seeking for an additional officer. It’s an issue communities across the country are facing in the wake of Newtown.
“Sandy Hook just shook my bones,” said Dayton Police Chief Donald “Dinky” Conley, referring to the Connecticut school where the shootings took place in December. “I’m determined that as long as I’m chief here, that’s not going to happen here, not in my school.”
Since then, one of two day-shift officers has been on duty during school hours at Pence. Officers rotate between two or three hour shifts.
“It’s wonderful,” Mary Shifflett, Pence’s principal, said. “This is a local police department that has made a commitment to their school within their jurisdiction.”
The department has seven officers total, including the chief, after cutting back from nine in the past few years due to the sagging economy.
“Taking on security at schools has strained us for manpower,” Conley said, so the department has gone to the community to ask for another full-time officer.
The officers rotate, instead of having a single school resource officer as other schools do, to balance school protection with the department’s other responsibilities.
“We want to have our officers and myself to be able to accomplish the other duties we have,” said Conley.
He explained that with an additional officer, the department could have a third officer on duty during the day and could also establish a more regular presence at school events.
The request for funds to hire an additional officer will be on the budget for the Feb. 11 Dayton Town Council meeting.
With salary and full benefits, the position would cost roughly $51,000.
Rockingham County Public Schools, of which Pence is a part, funds resource officers for county high schools, but not middle or elementary schools.
“We’re really very appreciative of Dayton and all they’ve been doing,” said Lowell Fulk, a member of the Rockingham County School Board.
Fulk explained that funding SRO programs in middle and elementary schools has not come up on the school board agenda yet, but that’s not to say that it wouldn’t.
Legislation that would fund SROs at all state schools is pending in the General Assembly.
“How it will shake out I don’t know yet,” Fulk said.
Dayton Mayor Charles T. Long said having an officer in the school is a key security measure, and not just in case the unthinkable happens.
“[When you can] give a presence, that deters a lot of your problems from occurring,” Long said.
He said an additional officer would help the department fulfill its mutual aid agreement with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department.
If the council doesn’t award the request, Long said, he hopes to have the funds available in the next budget cycle, beginning in July.
“I’m determined that we will be in the schools with or without the other [officer],” Conley said, adding that he intends to have every member of the department trained as a school resource officer and to continue the rotating shifts.
While the officers grow accustomed to their new duties, students seem to have already adapted to the police presence.
“They actually love the officers here,” Shifflett said. “The officers have been talking to students in the halls; they have joined us during the lunch shift.”
Generally, an SRO becomes part of the staff, Shifflett explained.
In the past, SROs have been used to help in civics classes and to mentor students.
“We’re not only there to protect them but to help them with any part of their life we can help them with,” Conley said.
The department has also extended itself, and its services, to the community through home contact.
For the past two years, the department has performed Operation Care, a program in which department staff checks on 25-30 residents who live alone or are infirm.
The officers have brought meals, provided company and have even cleaned out gutters for citizens on the list.
Because of the strain of these two services Conley and Long agreed the department deserved some extra help.
Contact Alex Rohr at 574-6293 or email@example.com