2017-07-12 / Editorial

School liaison officers make good sense

This fall returning students to four schools in Mayfield Township will notice an increased police presence, thanks to a cooperative and proactive collaboration between township officials, the sheriff’s department and Lapeer Community Schools.

Monday evening the Mayfield Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to contract a fifth officer through the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. who will serve as a liaison officer in the Lapeer Community Schools’ buildings — including Zemmer Middle School which has been at the center of a case involving three teens who face life in prison if convicted on charges of plotting a Columbine-style massacre.

Sheriff Scott McKenna acknowledged it was a “rough year” and was impressed by the desire of Mayfield Township officials to increase police presence in the schools. “Especially with what we saw this year, I think we really need to focus on these schools,” he told the board.

In addition to Zemmer, other LCS schools located in Mayfield Township are Schickler, Mayfield and Lynch elementary schools.

The sheriff’s department estimates the additional cost for the school liaison officer will be approximately $71,000 annually. About 25 percent of the overall cost would be covered by LCS (instead of Lapeer County).

The use of sheriff’s deputies as school liaison officers is not new, as the practice has been effective in other Lapeer County school districts to provide additional security as well as foster a relationship between law enforcement and students.

Following the disbanding of the North Branch Police Dept. in 2015, the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners contracted the sheriff’s department to assume police protection in the village. As a result, deputies regularly patrol facilities of the North Branch Area School District.

In Imlay City, the school district also enjoys the presence of law enforcement in the hallways of their facilities in the form of school liaison officer Joe DeLuca, an Imlay City Police Dept. officer.

Just last month, officials in Almont also approved funding for a school liaison officer in Almont Community Schools.

McKenna talked about plans for the 2017-18 school year during Monday’s meeting in Mayfield.

Mayfield Township Trustee Beth Potter-Knowlton characterized the liaison concept well. “I know we all talk to people in the township and I haven’t had a hard time presenting to anyone why I think it’s a great idea,” she commented.

Before the sheriff’s department and Mayfield Township can move forward on the one-year contract, Sheriff McKenna will first need to get approval from the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners, though we anticipate county officials will also appreciate the intent and authorize the new liaison officer.

We’re fortunate in Lapeer County that there are already good working relations between local law enforcement and school officials, and that will only improve further with new leadership that recognizes the importance of community policing. Sheriff McKenna has indicated he wants to make increased visibility and access to sheriff’s deputies a priority, particularly at a time when the community is experiencing an opioid and heroin addiction and abuse epidemic.

The presence of police officers in schools, if even on a rotational basis in the buildings, will allow students to reach out and speak with law enforcement if they suspect illegal or dangerous activity in schools, their homes and in their communities.

Lapeer’s new police chief, Dave Frisch, has also indicated his department will continue its community policing and liaison officer program in LCS buildings.

We commend Mayfield Township officials, the sheriff’s department and LCS for forging a new relationship that will increase security, public confidence and provide a bridge between the student population and law enforcement.

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