Adding Cops to Middle School

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department is trying to add School Resource Officers to middle schools in the city as part of their Community Oriented Policing Report. 

The department faced some public opposition about specific aspects of the report, though.

At their October 1 meeting, the city council tabled the issue for two months amid public backlash. School Resource Officers, however, were unanimously supported by the council.

"School Resource Officers, absolutely, that should be a priority," Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said.

Thomas said he supports SROs for their ability to create a positive relationship with young people.

"If we can build the trust and a good relationship between the teenagers and the police officers, then I think we can start to shift this culture," Thomas said.

The city assigned CPD to make the policing report to change this culture. The report debuted at the October 1 meeting was a "first draft" and it is now undergoing revisions, according to Communications and Marketing Manager Brian Adkisson.

Parents of children at Jefferson Middle School also agree that SROs would be a good step for both increasing security and building a relationship with police.

"I think the presence of someone in law enforcement at schools can not only maybe bring a little peace of mind to kids who are aware of what's going on in the world," Tia Brown said, whose son Lawson is in sixth grade at Jefferson. "And for parents as well."

Brown also believes it'd be better for a child to encounter a cop earlier in their life than later, specifically before they get pulled over.

"If they're sort of encouraged to have a relationship with a law enforcement official before then, then I think that their relationship with law enforcement could only be strengthened," Brown said.

Community Relations Director for Columbia Public Schools Michelle Baumstark hopes the city and the public can come to terms on the report because she sees tremendous value in SROs.

"This is actually something that the school district has been talking about for quite some time," Baumstark said. "We would love to see more SROs in our schools."

She echoed what Thomas said about SROs fostering relationships with students.

"Having the ability to build relationships within our school buildings is such a positive thing. Having that law enforcement presence not only helps with safety issues but also helps us build a network of trust," Baumstark said.

CPS currently has SROs at all high schools in the district and one floating officer that goes between the middle schools. There is also an educational officer that goes to elementary schools on a teaching basis. 

"Every time you see a police officer, it doesn't have to bring an immediate negative reaction," Baumstark said.