RCAPS eliminates police liaison position

REED CITY — The more than 200 complaints received each year by the police liaison officer at Reed City Area Public Schools will now have to be diverted to the Reed City Police Department to handle — when it has time.

On May 12, the RCAPS Board of Education held a special meeting and voted 5-2 to eliminate the liaison officer position held by Officer Destinee Bryce, saving the district around $20,000.

The move has Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis scratching his head and concerned about the possible repercussions.

“Safety should be the No. 1 factor at a school,” Davis said. “With the officer and patrol car there, it deters crime and gives students and administrators someone to go to directly to with possible concerns.”

Davis said with no liaison officer at the school, complaints from the school will likely have to be filed after hours and will be handled in the order it is received, like any other report filed at the police department.

The police liaison officer for the school system has dealt with 1,508 complaints over the seven years since the position was created, averaging 215 complaints each year.

Child abuse, criminal sexual conduct, civil issues, disorderly students and parents, larceny, bullying, assaults, drug and alcohol issues and trespassing are just some of the types of incidents handled by the officer, Davis said.

“The liaison officer wasn’t just having the one officer,” he explained. “It was like the school having its own police department with the number of cases dealt with and the response time.”

The schools will have to deal with some of the minor issues on their own, Davis said, because the Reed City Police Department will only have time for criminal complaints.

In addition to handling the various complaints, this year Bryce has taught 43 classes at the schools, ranging in topics from manners to bullying and much more.

Bryce said she wears many different hats at her job. One minute she is a social worker, and the next a mentor and friend for students to confide in.

“I’ve built such a positive rapport with these students,” she said. “There are many things they will come to me before administrators to see how it will play out and get a feel for what will happen. Then we’ll make a decision on the next course of action and go from there.”

RCAPS Superintendent Tim Webster said the liaison’s salary was paid out of at-risk funding, which is used for a variety of things aiming to help at-risk students. However, using the at-risk funding this way is not possible any longer.

“Our audit this year from the at-risk people said you can’t use that to pay liaison salaries,” Webster said. “So if we wanted to keep the liaison position, we would have to take it out of the general fund.”

With a tight general fund, the school board decided instead to eliminate the position.

Webster conceded cutting the program was not something they wanted to do, noting the perks of the fairly inexpensive service and having an officer devoted solely to the schools.

However, if RCAPS ever decides to reinstate the liaison officer program, it could face an increased cost, Davis said.

Unless the position is reinstated before the first day of the 2014-15 school year, the waiver Davis received from the Police Association of Michigan union for a $13 per hour wage for the part-time position will expire.

If the program is brought back at a later date, Davis would have to work out another waiver with the union or RCAPS would have to pay the police officer starting wage, which as of 2013 was $17.16 per hour.

"I know of no other schools, and I've talked to an awful lot of them, who have had this type of program for this low amount of money," Davis said. "Not where an officer is actually on the premises, taking care of schools the entire day."

Davis hopes the school board will reconsider and reinstate the position by next year. In 2010, the position also faced elimination, but was brought back, he said.

Although he would loved to hire Bryce, Davis said his department does not have the funds to keep her on staff.

Despite being out of a job when this school year is done, Bryce will remain in the community that has become home to her.

She said she will always be a police officer, but if she can't be the liaison officer she may take another step toward overseeing the well being of students.

"Maybe I'll run for school board and help make sure the school is being taken care of the way it should be," she said.