A Christmas miracle is needed to keep Wellington police patrolling school hallways, otherwise they’ll be out by the end of January when money runs dry.
“We still need $13,500 to make it to the end of the school year,” said Lt. Jeff Shelton, who oversees the program.
Five officers rotate shifts among the district’s three schools. They are paid from an overtime account to work hours in addition to those they normally spend policing the village.
“It works out well with the kids because some kids will talk to certain officers and not other ones,” Shelton said.
But not having a dedicated officer makes the police ineligible to apply for a grant that could fund them, he said. Still, “It’s better to have different officers in there all the time,” he said.
The downside, however, is paying for the position.
Last May, the board of education voted to eliminate police patrols for the 2015-16 school year to save money. The program, however, was reinstated in August when Shelton’s crew found funds.
Forest City Technologies donated $10,000, the school board threw in $5,000, and downtown businesses raised another $2,500 through various fundraisers.
“I feel bad having to go out and ask and ask and, frankly, people get tired of that,” Shelton said. “We raised $12,500 on our own and it’s time for some other people to step up and help.”
Officers patrol the three schools and also speak to students about drug risks and other topics. They also attend all disciplinary hearings and run drug dogs through the buildings.
“A lot of drugs have been cut down due to our presence,” he said. “The teachers are on board and 70 percent of the kids want us in there, too. We have built a good relationship with them. For the parents, it’s peace of mind knowing there are police in the schools protecting their kids.”
Superintendent Dennis Mock said the program offers a chance for students to develop a rapport with police officers and having numerous officers makes this even more likely since some kids click with different adults.
“It’s important to have officers be on site in case there is an emergency situation,” he said. “It would be good if we can keep the program.”
Shelton, who has two children of his own in the schools, said he feels better knowing officers are on site.
“It’s Christmas time and you usually get a miracle this time of year, so maybe we’ll be lucky and have someone step up and fund us through the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s a good program and I hate to see it end.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.