FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – As Allen County nears a record number of homicides, police report most of the people left dead or suspect are young men involved in gangs. In April, Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York offered school resource officers as a key solution to the problem. Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) agrees. But 15 Finds Out has discovered Fort Wayne police and the school system differ on how to deploy these officers.
According to Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller, the ultimate goal of a resource officer is building a greater respect in students toward the law and police. In April, York told 15 Finds Out he had plans to move school resource officers from Fort Wayne high schools to middle schools. It was a crime and gang prevention tactic to reach kids at an earlier age.
“We’re considering and probably will focus those officers more to middle schools next year instead of the high schools,” York had said.
But in the fall of 2013, nothing had changed. A spokeswoman with Indiana’s largest school district, FWCS, emphasized the corporation is not at odds with the police department. In fact, it wants officers in middle schools as well. Still, the corporation didn’t deploy York’s plan.
After school leaders declined to speak on the topic in April, 15 Finds Out caught up with Dottie Davis at a press conference. She’s the new director of security for FWCS.
“Moving them all to the middle schools in one fell swoop was not a good idea at this time,” Davis said. “We’ve had those discussions, but now that we’ve had the SRO’s (school resource officers) in the high schools for a number of years, they are very married to those officers. Those relationships are very very strong. So we would get a lot of push back if we tried to remove the SRO’s from the high schools into the middle schools.”
In November, York told 15 Finds Out he was surprised by the corporation’s decision.
“I personally think we would be better served having officers in the middle schools,” York said. “You reach kids at a younger age and I think you have the potential to positively affect them more so than I think when we encounter kids in high school that have already been exposed to gangs.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be resource officers in FWCS middle schools. In a press conference Friday, Attorney General Zoeller announced that FWCS received one of more than a hundred statewide grants to hire a resource officer. Over the next two years, the state is handing down $20 million in grant money that can be used to create more resource officers in schools across Indiana.
FWCS will assign its new officer to one middle school. It hasn’t yet announced which school.
“There are 11 middle schools. So it would not be fair to move that officer about. Nor would there be any continuity or consistency there,” said Davis. “Our goal is to be able to eventually put one in all middle schools.”
At this point, it’s unclear how FWCS will achieve that goal.
High-ranking officers at FWPD say many people refuse to cooperate with the department’s investigations. They call it a major roadblock toward solving homicides and preventing violence. Officials in both the school system and law enforcement agency agree resource officers are essential to solving that problem as well.
Although the corporation’s tactics may be different than Chief York’s preference, it’s still a plan that ultimately aims to proactively combat the rising violence in Fort Wayne. And it begins by building the trust of young people.
“The kids are all over the city and they come from a variety of locations into our building. So they’re going to bring that information with them. They’re good eyes and ears. So by having that SRO in there getting that relationship built, we might be able to get more information and prevent other things from happening. We might be able to solve some crimes and work cooperatively with law enforcement,” Davis said. “They really work with the kids, and they have no problem with walking up to a young person who they believe might be starting to be on the fringe of being associated with people who identify themselves as a gang member.”
FWCS currently has a resource officer in each of its five high schools and one who roams between the elementary and middle schools. The new resource officer has to be placed in the Fort Wayne middle school by the end of January, 2014.