As the Norman City Council looks toward a vote on a grant that would fund more police officers in local public schools, Norman police and school district administrators spoke Thursday to the potential expansion of Norman’s school resource officer program.
The school resource officer program has already placed nine officers in Norman schools. A $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice would fund an additional four officers, mostly in Norman’s elementary and middle schools, for three years.
While 75% of the funding for salary and benefits is provided by the grant, the city must provide 25% of that funding. The city council last week postponed a vote on accepting the grant until council seats in Wards 2 and 5 are filled.
While the city has grappled this summer with the impacts of a cut to a proposed increase in the NPD budget, NPD grant manager and standards administrator John Stege said in a panel discussion Thursday that putting more officers in SRO positions will not impact NPD’s investigations and patrol reserves. NPD and NPS administrators gathered Thursday evening in a web panel to share their experiences and answers on the SRO program.
Aside from the potential grant, the school resource officer program is funded through a cost-sharing partnership between the school district and the police department, approved by voters in 2014 as part of the Public Safety Sales Tax part two.
In the wake of national conversations about police violence and racial injustice, Norman has also grappled with the presence of police in its schools. At city council meetings, residents have described negative interactions with police in schools that had lasting personal impacts and positive interactions that have built relationships between police and students.
Though the topic of SROs has been a controversial issue in the greater Norman community this summer, school district administrators were very clear on their stance on the subject during Thursday's discussion. NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said the district and police department are working to fulfill PSST II and fill all 13 positions, but he believes the district “need(s) to do more.”
Over the summer, Migliorino expressed support for the SROs in his semi-regular newsletters to NPS parents and staff. “When it comes to safety, our SROs are an essential part of our plans to safeguard our students and staff. They stand between our schools and the dangers that exist in today’s world,” a June newsletter from Migliorino read.
“We don’t want to be a statistic — that would be the biggest statistic justifying this,” Migliorino said Thursday in a response to a question about what statistics the district is using to back up the expansion of the SRO program. “...Having these officers associated with and connected with specifically our elementary schools, right now who are shared with other schools, is incredibly important.”
Migliorino and NPS Chief Operating Officer Justin Milner said Thursday that they believe SROs “are a part of our school family” and play an integral part in school safety protocol and procedures. Milner said that “school shootings are still a real thing,” and the district relies on SROs for physical school safety.
Multiple panel participants said they believe community concerns about the school-to-prison pipeline are not relevant to Norman, and said they work to find other solutions to any legal issues that do not usually include involving students in the criminal justice system. Nationally, the school-to-prison pipeline is an established pattern in which Black students are more likely to be criminalized and disciplined while in school in a way that leads to more prolonged contact with the justice system.
A key concern locally has been the rate at which SROs interact with students of color. As discussion about SROs in schools came up across Norman this summer, many community members noted that Black NPS students are more than three times as likely to be involved in an SRO-reported “incident” as white NPS students.
Capt. Shawn Hawkins confirmed the statistic — based on NPD’s records — Thursday, but said that “incident” does not necessarily mean “arrest” or action taken. Hawkins said an “incident” can be any situation, negative or neutral, in which SROs officially interact with students or respond to an issue. NPD does actively track data about its SROs interactions in schools, and reviews the information with the district monthly.
While Black students are also more likely to be cited for truancy, NPD and NPS officials said Thursday that most truancies are issued by civilians, not officers. Panel participants said that school sites and administrators decide on disciplinary measures and try to address issues with counselors first, while SROs address any criminal law and minor misdemeanor issues.
The Norman City Council must make a decision on the grant by Oct. 1.