Payson's three elementary schools have been removed from the beat of the district's sole School Resource Officer due to the "double-edged" nature of a grant administered by the Payson Unified School District, Lt. Don Engler of the Payson Police Department said.
While the loss "really doesn't mean a whole lot to parents and children," Engler said, "the unfortunate end of it is, (calls from the elementary schools) will be prioritized along with all of our other calls. If we're working 'priority one' calls somewhere else, and the school calls with a 'priority two' or 'three,' there will be some time lag before we get an officer there."
Previously, Officer David Blalock the district's school resource officer was available exclusively for all Payson Unified School District schools. Now, Engler said, the officer will respond only to calls from Payson High School, Rim Country Middle School and the Payson Center for Success. The salary for the position is paid exclusively through grant funds.
Ironically, the cutback occurred as a result of the police department's grant request last year for additional resource officers.
"What happened was, last year we submitted all our numbers as far as calls and incidents that the school resource officer had handled, along with our grant to request two additional resource officers," Engler said. "Unfortunately, the funding wasn't there for us to receive any additional resource officers. But it's kind of a double-edged sword they reviewed our numbers and said that they were so high that they wouldn't allow our existing school resource officer to handle calls at the elementary schools any longer.
"It doesn't really make sense to me," Engler said, "but that's not to say this is the first time we've been in this type of situation. Although it doesn't make good sense and doesn't explain why we didn't get any additional school resource officers, it does make sense to limit what you have available for the one school resource officer."
The cutback, he said, likely won't even be noticed by many in the community.
"It really doesn't mean a whole lot to parents and children; they'll still receive police service," Engler said. "The difference, mainly, is where the police service will come from. Calls that used to be handled by the school resource officer will revert to our regular patrol officers.
"So in that sense, the biggest difference is responding to the elementary schools; instead of having (the school resource) officer respond, it will be the beat officer working that area."
School resource officers are part of a national program used by communities and schools in an attempt to address situations in the lives of students in a forum other than the judicial system.
The officer, while in school, is involved in a variety of functions aimed at prevention. Besides being an active, high-profile law enforcement officer, the resource officer is a resource for students, parents, teachers and administration regarding law issues.
Another of Blalock's duties is being a link to other service agencies which provide preventive and counseling services within the school district. Working hand-in-hand with the principal in each school, Blalock assists with finding solutions to problems affecting school-age children.