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Columbia police will still be present in schools after contract for resource officers expires

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The City of Columbia's contract with Columbia Public Schools for school resource officers expires at midnight Tuesday.

The Columbia Police Department will work to transition the officers into new positions. City spokesman Steve Sapp said the officers will be moved to the Community Outreach Unit. The officers will need to apply for the positions.

The Community Outreach Unit will have at least six positions instead of the current three.

Under the contract, the police department had officers in three high schools and one officer assigned to two middle schools. CPS was paying 55 percent of the salary for those four officers.

Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said during their time in the schools, school resource officers worked to deter criminal activity, but also to find ways to provide resources to students and their families.

"If a kid was having difficulty in class or acting out in class and the SRO had the ability to do a referral to a counseling services or to the Family Access Center of Excellence they could help with that process," Jones said.

Jones said officers sometimes contacted families outside of school to see if they needed anything.

He said providing security was not the SROs main purpose, although it was part of the job.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said it is not clear how or if security measures will change.

"The district has not had an opportunity to discuss what the change will mean for district safety and security as we only learned the city and CPD would be recommending cutting SROs about a week ago," Baumstark said in a statement.

The SROs have been on patrol since schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. On some days of the week they have been assigned to do outreach to the kids in their schools who are most likely to need support outside of school.

"We have kids that come to school and that may be the only meal they get by going to school, and the SROS have those relationships and have an understanding of how that might look at home. So they can go to the food bank, for example, and get a box of food and deliver it to students outside of school," Jones said.

Now, the transition out of the schools will look similar to the work the officers have been doing while students have not been in class. Jones said the impacts of COVID-19 are one reason the city decided to allow the contract with CPS to expire.

CPS parents are now deciding whether their children will attend classes in-person or online.

"Whatever CPS does, when they offer those online classes it makes sense to have the outreach out in the neighborhoods and in the community with those same students as opposed to having them in a school where they'll have less contact with the population that they serve," Jones said.

Jones said officers will still be in schools in some capacity, and the Community Outreach Unit will have a renewed focus on working with schools.

"Officers are still going to go through the schools and do walk throughs and talk to the kids and talk to the administrators and those relationships are important and we're not going to let those fall away just because we don't have an officer assigned full-time to a particular school," he said.

Once the Community Outreach Unit is fully staffed, officers will be in more schools rather than certain assigned buildings.

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Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen reports in the evenings during the week and on the weekend.

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