Commissioners push back on sheriff's SRO news release

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

MOUND CITY – A news release by Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend about a student bringing a dagger to school and the necessity to continue funding the school resource officer (SRO) program received pushback from the Linn County commissioners on Monday, Sept. 27.

Friend’s news release detailed the Sept. 21 incident at Pleasanton High School that was handled by the SRO, school officials and Pleasanton police before school started. However, the release also said that, while incidents at area schools involving SROs were not publicized, they occurred in all three school districts and pointed to the need of maintaining funding for the SRO program.

In July the commission met with superintendents from all three school districts in the county and asked school districts to help fund the SRO program. Earlier this month, the commission sent a letters to Prairie View USD 362, Jayhawk USD 346 and Pleasanton USD 344 asking that they purchase for the sheriff’s office one vehicle at $36,000 apiece for each SRO on staff.

The districts have one SRO for each attendance center: Prairie View has three, Jayhawk has two, and Pleasanton has one.

None of the districts has responded favorably to the county’s proposal, and Commissioner Jim Johnson last week suggested the county could cut funding for the program.

At this week’s commission meeting on Sept. 27, Johnson said that there was a press release from the sheriff that was put on Facebook that the commissioners were trying to defund his program.

Johnson said he wanted taxpayers to know that the commission just approved a budget of $3,314,669 for the sheriff’s office, the money the sheriff spent last year was $2,569,001. He said that if his math was correct, that is a difference of $745,668 or $2,042 a day.

“I don’t see that that is defunding his program,” the commissioner added.

The sheriff’s budget for 2022 has been of particular concern this year for the commission because of the construction of the new jail and the costs anticipated to run a 96-cell facility. The current jail has only 20 cells.

Commission Chair Rick James said he anticipates reaching out to the school districts again, working with the sheriff and continue on with getting some money from the school district to help pay for the SRO program.

Johnson pointed out that the school districts had made no response to the letters. The commission has yet to have any correspondence with the school administrators, Johnson said. They have never reached back to talk the commission about anything.

“We are definitely not in favor of defunding it,” said Commissioner Danny McCullough. “It is our job to give our employees the tools necessary to do their job and make this county great and try to succeed and bring businesses here and do it with as little money as we can so we do not have to charge so much in taxes here.

“And that is kind of what we are trying to do and trying to make a situation better and it has not been visited in eight years and then we get slapped with we are defunding it.”

McCullough went on to call Friend’s statement a “slap in the face.” He said the commission is just trying to make the program better by trying to make it run more efficiently. If there is a problem, the commissioners are trying to get it fixed, he added.

Johnson added, “The administrators all told us they loved the program but I want to talk to them about it. If you really love it buy into it a little bit.”

James ended the discussion by saying the commission’s goal is to continue on and work with the school districts and the sheriff. But he also called for getting some buy-in from the schools if safety is as important to them as it was to the former county commissioners who voted to create the program in the beginning.

“It is not a matter of whether the county itself can afford it, it’s a matter of whether the school districts and the elected boards think it is as important as well,” said James. “And if it is, we should be in cooperation and receive some funds for it down the road.”

In a separate interview, Sheriff Friend said that he was well aware of the increase in his budget for 2022, but that almost all of that increase is for operating the law enforcement center approved by voters. That includes adding about 10 staff members, doubling utility costs, increased insurance costs, more meals and higher health-care costs for inmates.

The budget for the SRO program for next year is about $267,000, up from nearly $260,000 this year.

He said he believed the SRO program is very important to the school districts and communities. To keep commissioners apprised of the activity of the SROs in the school districts, Friend began including a count of those activities in his weekly reports to the commission.

Last week, from Sept. 20 through Sept. 24, the SROs had 122 calls for service.

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