Three Kent County school districts each will get a new resource officer, and Byron Township will get three new road patrol officers.
The county board of commissioners approved the additions at its Aug. 23 board meeting.
School resource officers
Comstock Park Public Schools, Sparta Area Schools and the Kent Area Intermediate School District headquarters each will be assigned an officer with a vehicle.
The annual cost per officer is $128,407, which includes wages and benefits, a vehicle and equipment.
Comstock Park and Sparta each will pay 70 percent of the wages and benefits cost, as well as $245 monthly toward the vehicles. Kent ISD will fully cover the wage and benefits, as well as $350 monthly toward the vehicle.
Kent County will allocate $160,509 to the schools and the 2018 sheriff’s general fund.
School resource officers are an “asset” to the community, meant to act as educators, mentors and law enforcement, said Kent County Sheriff Lawrence Stelma in a request for the officers. He said resource officers are qualified to teach students about a variety of topics, including safety, bullying, drug abuse, traffic laws and reporting concerns.
Stelma said these officers primarily work to prevent issues as counselors and mentors, spending 30 percent of their time with vulnerable children who may be neglected at home or have other issues.
“While the impact of these counseling and mentoring opportunities may never be known, it’s only logical to conclude that the SRO plays a very important role in deterring many significant safety issues,” Stelma wrote.
Diane Jones, Kent County finance and physical resources committee chair, said she has spoken with superintendents in her district about the role of resource officers.
“There is a relationship that’s built between this officer and the students that I think is an incredible advantage,” she said. “I think it really helps a positive relationship with law enforcement. It’s just very difficult to put a price tag on that.”
As fully certified deputies, they also act as armed security guards and spend 30 percent of their time investigating criminal complaints related to their schools, Stelma added.
He also noted the increase of U.S. school shootings. Between January and June last school year, he said the county investigated 45 violent threats against schools, nine of which resulted in criminal charges. There already has been another threat this school year, he said.
Kent County has eight other resource officers in other school districts.
Byron Township patrol
Byron Township will have three new road patrol officers starting Oct. 1
The officers and one vehicle will be on the road 12 hours per day.
The township is paying the full wages and benefits cost, which is $106,467 for each officer. The sheriff’s office is providing the vehicle, uniforms and equipment.
The county is providing $89,724 to the township and sheriff for the positions.
Stelma said the need for additional officers was determined after a committee that included the county sheriff’s office recommended an increase of public safety services in Byron.
Stelma said Byron residents need more services than what have been available, and there has been a “diminished level” of preventative patrols.
He said the new officers will increase the level of patrol in Byron and allow more time to investigate reported incidents.
“The benefits of the additional patrol services will be felt throughout the county,” Stelma said. “It will allow county district officers to more evenly distribute their time, and Byron officers will have greater ability to respond to emergencies throughout the county.”