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Residents split as SROs to return to Columbia Public Schools

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia City Council approved a new contract with Columbia Public Schools on Monday to bring back police officers in some school buildings.

The district is set to pay 75% of the salaries for four Columbia police officers, one for Hickman High School, one for Rock Bridge High School and two for Battle High School. The cost would be a little less than $300,000.

Principal of Battle, Adam Taylor, attended the council meeting Monday night in support that SRO's return to his school building.

"As an educator, my number one job as the principal of Battle High School is making sure that every kid returns home safely, education is secondary," Taylor said.

Despite Battle having the least amount of students out of the three high schools in the area, the police incidents are more than double.

The Columbia Police Dispatch shows that in 2021, there were 207 times where police were called to Battle compared to 74 at each of the other two. Looking closer at assault calls, there were 11 calls for assault at Battle in 2021 compared to two at Hickman and three at Rock Bridge.

CPS Superintendent, Dr. Brian Yearwood, says in addition to SRO's, the district is adding trauma counselors to Battle. Yearwood reflects on two recent incidents that have impacted the Battle community.

"A senior that was about to graduate and walk across the stage (Roberto Lauer), a sophomore young lady with great promise (Aubry Doxley), if we had those resource officers in tune working with us in ways that we want with our contracts perhaps they'd be graduating, not a funeral," Yearwood said.

Karli Jones is a student at Hickman but works with a group of students across the district called "Students For Change."

Jones says the group's branch member at Battle has seen crime increase. "She has noticed an increase of fights over at Battle. There seems to be a little bit higher crime rates in that area," Jones says.

Jones says it's almost every day that she comes to school scared and a recent incident at Hickman could have used an SRO on site.

"A major incident that has happened was at Hickman homecoming, and there was a rumor about a gun being there. There, it was investigated and no gun was found out, but it was really, really scary for people there and it was really real to everybody involved," Jones said.

Keisha Edwards, a former SRO at CPS for over nine years, says the recent incidents that have happened close to Missouri has shown the need for SROs at CPS is even greater than it was before.

"The children are our future and our priority, what are we going to do if an incident, an incident happened in Columbia and we do not have an officer in that school. There was one just a few days ago where the school resource officer was shot. What are we going to do? Who are we going to answer to? What are we going to say," Edwards said.

There are still reservations from the community.

Rose Metro with Mom's Demand Action says she has seen good SROs and bad SRO and moving forward she thinks students and teachers should have a say in who serves their schools.

"Students and teachers need to be empowered in the hiring and firing process of these officers. They need to be able to get a vote," Metro said.

A long-time teacher in CPS also spoke out Monday night saying that schools need other resources besides police.

"They carry guns. They are trained to enforce the law. Counselors, educators and support staff are trained to support students and families. That's the direction we need to go," the teacher said.

Plus, students feel that this is not the end-all solution.

"I'd say that their presence is probably good for us, but you know, it's not everything that we could be doing," Jones said.

Michelle Baumstark with Columbia Public Schools says Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones has currently stationed two officers at Battle to provide support until the SRO hiring process is complete. She also says that Battle will be first with two officers and the two other high schools will follow when police staffing is available

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Chanel Porter

Chanel joined ABC 17 News in January 2021 after graduating from Penn State University. She enjoys traveling and a daily iced coffee.

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