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Boise approves renewing contracts for police officers in schools, could revisit later

There is some support on the Boise City Council for removing school resource officers from local schools, but the majority of the council said the idea needs more time for study.

On Tuesday, Boise City Council had three contracts between the Boise Police Department and three school systems up for approval: West Ada School District, Bishop Kelly High School and Boise Public Schools. The city votes to reapprove the contracts yearly. The items were listed on the consent agenda for approval, which means they would be approved without individual votes along with other routine business. 

City Council Member Lisa Sanchez asked to take the contracts off the consent agenda for a vote and moved to turn them down. She said it was an opportunity for Boise to make good on its promise to consider reforming policing in the city in the wake of George Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.Her suggestion was to add more counselors and social workers in schools instead of police.

“I think this is an opportunity to really show our commitment to those in our community who want us to take a closer look at how the police interacts with the community,” Sanchez.

After Floyd’s death, activists across the country called for a scaleback of police funding in exchange for more investment in social services. Cities across the country, including PortlandLos Angeles and Denver, voted to remove school resource officers from classrooms to make way for more investment in programming from counselors or other programs for youth. 

Funding for officers in schools increased in 1999 following the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Since then, proponents say the program helped head off criminal activity before it gets more serious and keep students safe. But, opponents point to studies finding disparities between how white children and children of color face discipline and treatment by the police and low levels of officers preventing school shootings. 

Other council members didn’t agree with Sanchez. The others members didn’t vote to turn down the contracts. Member Patrick Bageant did not attend the meeting. 

Support for SROs now, but change possible

City Council President Elaine Clegg said she is interested in the possibility of change, but thought turning down the contracts now would leave the three school administrations scrambling and trying to make changes with the 2020-2021 school year already underway. She also spoke with Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee during the worksession and directed him to begin gathering data on the effectiveness of the program. 

Although he supported the idea of removing the officers, City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton agreed with Clegg about the need for more time and data to make a decision. He said the topic should have been discussed earlier in the summer so it would not be an abrupt change.

“I think we still owe that conversation to our community,” he said.

Only City Council Member TJ Thomson showed strong support for the officers in schools, but he said he was willing to discuss a change.

“I personally feel more safe with having SROs than not at this point with my six year old daughter,” he said. “I support these contracts, but want to dig in and look at them going forward.”

Mayor Lauren McLean called SROs “an important service” and said it has been continually requested by the school districts, but she said it is important to gather data about the program and to continue evaluating the costs to the city to provide it.

“This is a conversation we have to keep having,” she said. “…We need to have some serious conversations as a city and with council leadership of the costs of that and whether we are able to maintain this without fuller participation (from the school districts).”

Under the contracts, West Ada will pay the city $30,874, Bishop Kelly will pay $15,437 and Boise School District will pay $197,507.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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