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Will The Tucson Police Department Return To Patrol City High Schools?

FOLLOWING APRIL'S MASSACRE at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, local school officials and the Tucson Police Department are talking about reinstating police officers in high schools.

In March 1997, the Tucson Police Department pulled high school liaison officers out of high schools within the city limits (primarily Tucson Unified School District schools, but also including Amphi High School and Flowing Wells High School). County schools are still provided with liaisons from the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

Although Assistant Chief Jessie Ochoa claimed it was related to "manpower and budget considerations," critics of the move say the TPD felt burned by the reaction of the TUSD officials following an aggressive police response to the riots on that campus in 1996.

TPD paid for the liaison service, which cost $750,000, out of its $70 million budget (in 1997), with no compensation from the schools. TPD officials argue that compared to their $70 million budget, TUSD's budget was close to $275 million, with part of that budgeted for security.

The option to hire uniformed off-duty police officers has always been available to the high schools, at the going rate of $20 an hour. Flowing Wells High School, for example, employs a police officer from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to supplement its security team.

Amphi High School Principal Ramon Paz would like to see a return of the liaison officers. Having an officer on campus, says Paz, "builds a level of trust and comfort and helps establish and enforce order on campus." When Amphi officials have called police in drug cases, he laments, it has sometimes taken four to six hours for a police officer to respond.

TPD Chief Richard Miranda voluntarily placed officers in each of the city high schools for the last two weeks of the '98-'99 school year and has directed his department to begin investigating what it would take to reinstitute officers in the schools.

At a City Council Public Safety Subcommittee meeting on Thursday, May 27, 1999, Assistant Chief Jessie Ochoa said the Tucson Police Department was interested in reinstating officers in the 12 city high schools. Ochoa emphasized the officers would not be security guards or disciplinarians, but would address serious crime issues.

"TPD is looking at the entire SRO (School Resource Officer) package and envisions changing the function of the High School Liaison Officers to function more like the SROs that are currently in the elementary and middle schools...except tailored to the high schools," says TPD Captain George Stoner.

Ochoa estimated it would cost TPD $1.3 million dollars to put officers back in the high schools.

The Tucson Police Department has scheduled a public meeting on the issue on August 4. For more information, call 791-4852. TUSD has also tentatively scheduled a "Safety Summit" for August.

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