Sheriff asks for county to fund addition school resource officers. 

June 28, 2022

Sheriff asks for county to fund addition school resource officers. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — A proposal from the Mason County Sheriff’s Office to provide additional school resource officers to two county public schools was presented today to the Mason County Board of Commissioners Public Safety and Courts Committee. While each of the committee members — chairman Gary Castonia, Jody Hartley and Lew Squires, all agreed that SROs are important but they wanted more information about funding and operations. The committee agreed to put the sheriff’s proposal on the agenda for the county commission’s budget work session scheduled for Tuesday, July 26. 

Mason County Sheriff’s Office chief deputies Oscar Davila and Ken VanSickle attended today’s meeting, representing Sheriff Cole who is out of state at a conference. The sheriff’s proposal calls for the county to fund an SRO position at Mason County Eastern Public Schools in Custer and to partially fund an SRO position at Ludington Area School District’s Ludington Elementary School in Pere Marquette Township. Cole said Pere Marquette Charter Township will be approached to also fund the LES position. 

Currently, Ludington Area School District has an agreement with the City of Ludington for one school resource officer (SRO) through Ludington Police Department. The position is partially funded by the school and the City of Ludington. Mason County Central School District has an agreement with the City of Scottville for one school resource officer through Scottville Police Department. That position is funded by MCC, the City of Scottville and West Shore Community College, which also has an agreement with the City of Scottville for police protection. 

In January of this year LASD opened its new elementary in Pere Marquette Township. While LPD has continued to provide the SRO position, law enforcement outside the city limits is the responsibility of the sheriff’s office and Michigan State Police (city police officers are deputized by the sheriff, which allows them to enforceå state laws outside their jurisdiction in other areas of the county). 

Mason County Eastern Public Schools in Custer currently has no dedicated SRO. 

“I draft this request one week after the tragic events in Texas, which tragically claimed the lives of 19 schoolchildren, and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas,” Sheriff Cole wrote in his proposal. “This comes at the request of parents and citizens of Mason County who have reached out to me asking I secure the schools with armed deputies.  Enough is enough.  The time for action is now.  That action?  To harden our schools in the form of uniformed deputies on county school campuses.

“Since taking office in 2013, I have focused on safety and security measures to best protect our community’s most precious resource, our children. We have placed over 600 barricading devices on all school doors throughout the county and equipped our deputies with rifle rated body armor and ballistic helmets. Nearly $200,000 in private funding, not once asking for any county money.  We took possession of a $300,000 MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) free from Newaygo County, again, never asking for county funding.

“MCSO deputies train constantly in preparation for a day we pray never comes.  Nonetheless, we are prepared. We have worked with school officials countywide in ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) protocols with countless hours donated and volunteered time by all those involved.   

“I have done all of this with either private funding or money within my budget.  I have never asked for one dime from the county and I can assure you, we are among the best in the state for preparedness.

“Now it is time for the county to step up.”

Cole is asking the county board to approve $143,122 annually, plus a 10% increase for built-in overtime, for two full time deputies. Cole the plan, pending approval, would include Pere Marquette Charter Township funding 25%, $50,000, of the LES position with the county covering the other 75%. The county would also fund 100% of the MCE position. 

County Administrator Fabian Knizacky said the estimated costs for funding two full time deputies is actually about $279,000, which includes equipment costs. 

“The benefit of this concept is those two deputies would be assigned to Pere Marquette Township during the summer months,” Cole said. “This allows the road patrol to spend more time out in the county—benefiting the county taxpayers.” 

Cole said he believes the financial request is within reason as the county board of commissioners had previously approved three full time deputy positions for courthouse security. The board later opted to only hire one full time deputy as a bailiff and a private contractor, which cost considerably less than the originally budgeted amount. 

“In addition, I am aware of pending funds from the Opioid settlement, although I do not know an amount, partial funding could come from this source as well.”

Cole said the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding, over $5.6 million assigned to Mason County, could also be utilized. He said he would also seek grants for wages and equipment replacement. 

Cole said the plan calls for the county to purchase one patrol car and Pere Marquette Township would purchase the other with estimated replacement every four to five years. The current cost is about $55,000 each, fully equipped. PM Township would also purchase equipment for its SRO, which includes uniforms, laptop computers, patrol rifle and sidearm. The cost would be a onetime cost of about $25,000 per deputy. 

The sheriff said he would like to see this approved and the deputies in place by the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 

Cole said he believes the county commissioners have a responsibility to oversee the protection of the county’s citizens. 

“Each county commission in Mason County has a vested interested in school safety and the hardening of our schools because they all have districts full of constituents whose children attend public school.  This is your time as Mason County commissioners to leave your lasting legacy in Mason County history.

“Mass shootings are taking place across our nation, nearly daily.  Eleven shot in Philadelphia, three dead and in Chattanooga Tenn., another 14 shot and three killed, three killed and two others shot in Saginaw, four shot one killed in Grand Rapids.  The list goes on and on.  

“Shooting at nightclubs, grocery stores and schools flash across the headlines.  The good thing is, we are no more likely to have a school shooter event in our area schools or community. The bad thing is, we are no less likely either. The time is now to take action by us working together to make our schools as safe as possible.”

Commissioner Lew Squires said he was in favor of any type of proposal that would protect the children of the county. 

“I am a huge advocate for law enforcement in this county,” Squires said. “I have been for the safety of our citizens since I’ve been on this board. This issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible before we have a problem.”

However, later in the meeting, Squires said he wanted more information about funding and operations, agreeing with commissioner Jody Hartley, Cole’s former undersheriff, who said he wanted to see what funds were available from the state. 

In May, the Michigan House of Representatives included $50 million in next year’s state budget to help schools hire SROs. According to State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), of the 101st House District, which currently includes Mason County, the issue is being debated in the House right now. 

“Our request is to not wait any longer,” said Mason County Chief Dep. Oscar Davila. “Our request is to not wait for the government funds that may or may not happen.” Davila asked the commissioners present if they would be able to look in the mirror if an incident happened in a school knowing they could have approved hiring SROs. 

Cole said, after the meeting, that he was thankful the commissioners are considering the request. 

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