Brownstown Central Community School Corp. students and staff have grown accustomed to having Tom Wright direct traffic, walk through the schools, teach D.A.R.E. and assist in other ways.
But after December, the corporation won’t have a school resource officer.
A Secured School Safety grant from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security had been awarded to Brownstown the past three years, but it wasn’t received for 2017.
That was disappointing news for Tom Hanner, chief of the Brownstown Police Department, and Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown schools.
“When I took over in 2012 as chief, one of the first things I made public was that school safety was my No. 1 concern, and we would do everything we can to get involved in schools,” Hanner said. “Now, to have to figure out what I’m going to have to do from here isn’t something I’m happy about.”
Walker said he plans to reapply for the grant in 2018. It’s a matching grant that has to be applied for each year.
“I do firmly believe there is value having a full-time officer in the schools,” Walker said. “There are many positive relationships developed. We have always had a very good relationship with the Brownstown Police Department. Chief Hanner has pledged to continue to support the schools and provide whatever services that he can. “Hopefully, this is just a year thing.”
In 2013, Brownstown received $49,400 to create a school resource officer position and secure entrances at all three school buildings for the 2014 calendar year. The school corporation then received about $30,000 for 2015 and 2016.
The grant program was built into the state budget in 2013 in response to discussions on school safety after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. During that incident, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six teachers and staff members.
The amount each district can apply for through the Secured School Safety Grant program depends on student enrollment. School corporations and charter schools with at least 1,000 students are eligible for up to $50,000, while smaller districts can apply for up to $35,000.
Along with helping pay a school resource officer’s salary, the grant money can be used to purchase security equipment, such as surveillance cameras, or conduct a threat assessment if there are weaknesses in emergency plans.
Crothersville Community School Corp. received $17,800 in 2013 to purchase an electronic access system that requires visitors to be let into the school building by someone in the main office. The district, however, does not have a school resource officer.
Seymour Community School Corp. has received $50,000 each of the past three years. Jackson County’s largest school district now has three school resource officers — one for the five elementary schools, one for the middle school and sixth grade center and one for the high school and Jackson County Learning Center.
The funding Brownstown received in recent years also helped Hanner offset overtime for paying officers to come in and help patrol the town, assist with investigations and fulfill other duties.
“Any time those (school) doors were open, we were there unless we ran into circumstances that kept us from that,” Hanner said. “Now, with having to have a detective, I don’t have the manpower, I don’t have the money to pay overtime if I don’t have that funding.”
Hanner said he has met with school officials to let them know he will provide an officer at the schools whenever possible. Including Hanner, the police department consists of six full-time officers and three reserves.
“We’re going to continue to try to provide the most service we can through December. I’m going to do everything I can to provide that,” he said. “I’m hoping over Christmas break that that gives us time to sit down and put our heads together and see what we can do.
“I’m a graduate of Brownstown schools, so it’s real personal for me,” he said. “I have children in this school system that I’m trying to protect, as well. There’s not a day goes by that this isn’t on my mind. We don’t ever want anything to happen to our children.”
One thing that will keep going as usual is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
Wright has taught the program to fifth-graders at Brownstown Elementary School and Lutheran Central School for several years, but Officer John Reichenbacker will take over those duties. He recently became certified to teach the program.
“We’re going to give him an opportunity to kind of get his feet wet with it. We’re just giving Tom a little bit of a break,” Hanner said. “Both John Reichenbacker and Tom Wright are certified school resource officers and certified D.A.R.E. officers. Just the size of our department, I can’t give them both up at the same time.”
Hanner said the department’s annual call volume has more than doubled from where it was 10 years ago, going from about 1,000 to more than 2,400.
“That just comes down to where a lot more is expected of us,” he said. “That’s just the trend across our nation, expecting officers to do more and more and more.”
A detective was added for the first time because of the level of crime that is occurring, Hanner said.
“Crime is not going away, and in the 10-year model I look at from when I came to this department and how high the call volume is, it’s not going to go away,” he said. “I have to provide the citizens with the best investigations that we can.”