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Cedar Rapids City Council supports SRO program, school board will have final say

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) - The Cedar Rapids City Council was unfazed by recent inaction by the local school board Tuesday, signing off on the School Resource Officer program while waiting for school officials to give the final go-ahead.

"I do not want SROs in our buildings forever. But if we're in a situation were it's unsafe and we can't conduct our classrooms, this is where we've arrived," Ashley Vanorny said when talking about fights and some incidents of weapons in school buildings.

The Council voted 9-0 to have City Manager Jeff Pomeranz draft a new resolution that was in-line with CRPD's recommendations. Pomeranz was then instructed to "execute" an agreement with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. That would be contingent on the district agreeing to the program.

"These organizations have clearly done something well over the last year. Let's make it even better. Our kids deserve that," Mayor Tiffany O'Donnell said about the 84% overall drop in charges against high school students between the 2018-19 school year and this most recent school year.

"This group of seven has shown so much success this can we not consider repeating?" Lt. Corey McGarvey said, the officer who leads the SRO program.

The council accepted CRPD's recommendation to have the two "floating" SROs that had been going between all schools stationed at McKinley and Wilson middle schools. The officers would be free to move about the district, but they would start each day at those two schools.

This decision was based on data that found McKinley and Wilson were the middle schools with the most police interaction in 2021-22. The most serious were eight assaults between the two and two weapons-related charges, including a student bringing a load gun on campus at McKinley in December.

The proposal also included five full-time SROs at the three main high schools, plus Metro High School and Polk Alternative Learning Center.

Mayor O'Donnell pushed even further, saying if it were up to her, she would like an SRO in every school building. Lt. McGarvey said that was not necessary.

"I worry that this measure seems to be more reactionary and not really based in data," Tam Marcus said, a community activist who spoke against the SRO program on Monday.

Marcus is one of the core members of the Advocates for Social Justice, but ASJ has not taken a formal stance on the SRO debate at this time.

CRPD and Mayor O'Donnell cited the Uvalde, Texas shooting as one reason why they support the program. Officials in Texas clarified to reporters a few days after the shooting that the district did not have an SRO stationed at Robb Elementary on that day, but one responded to the school, driving right by the shooter outside the school and approaching a teacher he thought was the suspect.

"At these school shootings, there are SROs on-site and they don't intervene. So, it just feels like we're exploring solutions that don't make our schools safer," Marcus said.

Marcus was applauded the school board for tabling the vote on Monday, in-part because it wanted updated student survey data, and wished the council would have done the same.

The school board is still yet to schedule a work session to discuss the SRO program further. The plan is for a formal vote to follow on July 11 after that work session.