The city will fund six school resource officers, some costs of which will be covered by a state grant, although aldermen and the mayor grumbled that the county ought to be putting up some of the money to fund the positions.
The resource officers are posted at New Bern High School, H.J. McDonald Middle School, and Grover C. Fields Middle School. New this year will be resource officers posted at Oaks Road Elementary School and J.T. Barbour Elementary School.
No one argues against posting school resource officers at the schools. The sticking point is that three of the schools — New Bern High and the two middle schools — have students who don’t live inside city limits. Some aldermen think the county should chip in to cover its share of the enrollment.
The resource officers cost about $81,000 per year for salary, benefits, and equipment. They are available for regular police duties during two summer months when school is out of session, said New Bern Police Chief Toussaint Summers.
State grant money covers $39,000 per resource officer for the high school and middle schools, with the city paying the balance.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said the county, the school district, and cities in Craven County need to get together to find an equitable way to cover the cost of school resource officers.
Meanwhile, he said, he’ll “old my nose and vote for this.”
“In today’s society, you can’t not have a resource officers in these schools,” Outlaw said.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she feels bullied into a decision. “I don’t like the political nature of this,” she said.
Alderwoman Jameesha Harris said “This is a tax burden I would like to have in order to have my children be safe.”
Chief Summers said the benefits of the city providing resource officers to the schools outweighs the costs. The officers spend the school year getting to know teenagers in the community, and during the summertime, a “very busy time” for the Police Department, the officers are available for patrol duty and to hold youth summer camps.
In addition, should an incident occur on campus, resource officers there could facilitate the arrival of other law enforcement as they arrive.
At present, the New Bern Police Department has 86 personnel, plus two trainees and one vacancy. He said on average NBPD has a 10 percent turnover rate.
To the question of whether to fund resource officers for New Bern High School and the two middle schools, aldermen voted 6-1, with Alderman Barbara Best voting against it. To the question of whether to add one resource officer each to J.T. Barbour and Oaks Road elementary schools, the vote was 5-2, with Best and Bengal voting against it.
In a memo to aldermen, Chief Summers provided information supporting the addition of resource officers to the two elementary schools. Three other elementary schools inside city limits would not have resource officers.
Craven County has budgeted $99,000 for these two positions, leaving the city of New Bern with $10,000 in costs.
“(The two) elementary schools have been identified as having students with limited positive interaction with police officers. Assigning School Resource Officers would facilitate a safe learning environment, encourage positive relationships with law enforcement and reduce the number of violent acts within our schools. If approved, the newly inducted School Resource Officers would promote anti-bullying initiatives, lead drug and crime prevention programs, provide a safe and secure campus for both the students and the teaching staff during regular school hours and at after-school activities.”