After six years, the school resource officer program will not continue into the 2019-20 school year.
The school resource officer or SRO was a contract paid position paid for by the Fennimore Community Schools (three hours a week) and the Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (20 hours a week).
The program began with SWTC contracting with the Fennimore Police Department for six hours per week. It grew from there to twelve hours per week in the 2013/14 school year and increased once more to 20 hours per week the next year. Also in 2014/15 the Fennimore Community Schools began participating. Most recently during the 2018/19 school year, the Fennimore Community Schools contracted the officer for 100 hours split between the elementary, and high school/middle school. SWTC contracted for 840 hours of coverage.
Originally when the program began it was filled by a rotation of part time officers. However, as time went on, the appeal of utilizing one officer to develop lasting contacts and removing the stresses commonly associated with law enforcement contact became the new strategy for the program.
Last year, the hard work paid off when the trusted relationship with the officer directly contributed to the successful removal of a child sex predator from the Fennimore community.
The Fennimore Police Facebook page stated. “The rapport established between the victim and a Fennimore School Resource Officer before the incident was critical to the success of this investigation. Thanks to the relationships built before the investigation, a predator has been removed from the Fennimore Community.”
“Having a liaison officer in the schools also provides a law enforcement presence and SROs have been involved with school related safety issues and complaints/investigations,” Chief of Police Chris French shared. “SWTC and the Fennimore Community Schools have a population of almost 2,000 staff/students during the day and having a designated officer available to address their needs for service is extremely valuable.”
Despite the success of the program, things have become strained.
In December of 2018, the department lost their long time SRO officer to full time employment with another agency. They were briefly able to fill the position once more with another part time officer, however, they lost them once again to another agency offering full time. The department carried on however utilizing a mixture of veteran and new part time officers to fill the position, noting in their report, “The shortage of law enforcement recruits across the U.S. has made it very difficult to retain well qualified part time employees.”
“Funding is needed to staff the position with a full time officer,” French said. “We currently have no part time officers available to staff the position had have not had any luck recruiting officers with the experience to be successful. Typically, there is only one Fennimore Police Department officer on duty during the day and calls for service in town along with the administrative duties do not leave adequate time to provide extra coverage for the schools. There were also times when the SRO would leave their school duties and respond to emergency calls in town as a secondary or back up officer.”
French has attended meetings of the Fennimore City Council expressing his concerns and continual desires to open up another full time position to fill the SRO program.
Citizens who also support the program and would like to see it reinstated are encouraged to reach out to city alders, the mayor or attend council meetings to discuss the matter during the portion reserved for citizen comment.