Gage County officials are hoping to hire a deputy as a school resource officer to provide a police presence in schools outside of Beatrice.
Sheriff Millard Gustafson wanted funds for a school resource officer to be included in his department’s latest budget, but the item was cut before the budget was approved in September.
As a result, Gustafson has been meeting with area schools, looking for a creative solution to add a school resource officer in the area.
Under a proposal being considered, Freeman, Diller-Odell and Southern schools would each cover one-third of the deputy’s salary. The sheriff’s office would contribute equipment and training for the deputy.
One response from some school officials has been to suggest hiring security instead of paying to split a deputy’s time with two other schools, though Gustafson said security isn’t the only benefit from a school resource officer.
“Some of the fear is thinking if they’re going to spend the money for that, why not just have an armed security guy walking around the halls?” he said. “A school resource officer is not about that. The biggest part of it is becoming part of the educational community and bonding with the kids.”
A Beatrice Police Department officer serves as a school resource officer at Beatrice Public Schools, and the program has been met with success.
County Board member Dennis Byars, who also serves on the Region V Board of Directors, supported adding a school resource officer, saying it could help combat Gage County’s crime and suicide rates.
“We have the highest critical incidents with our youth in all of the 16 county area that Region V Systems covers,” Byars said. “…Part of that is unfortunately contributing to the suicide incidents that we’re having in our county.”
Gustafson said there have been 29 calls for service to the three schools in 2018, with two calls that involved threats. The department takes all calls seriously and Gustafson hopes a school resource officer would reduce the number of incidents.
“It makes you real uneasy anymore, with the way things are around the country,” he said. “I want to try and at least address that the best we can.”