FAYETTEVILLE -- The City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday to hire an additional school resource officer, reversing a decision it made two years ago to reject a federal grant that would have helped pay for two such officers.
The proposal the council approved, sponsored by Holly Hertzberg, also made a resolution of intent to hire two new school resource officers every year until each Fayetteville Public Schools campus has one. The resolution of intent is nonbinding, and any new officers would have to be approved with the city's overall budget each year.
Discussion of the proposal lasted about three hours. Nearly 30 members of the public spoke to the council, with 17 expressing support, 10 asking the council to reject the measure and one person on the fence.
The council in 2020 twice rejected a proposal to accept a federal grant that would have helped pay for the cost of two new school resource officers. The first vote in August 2020 failed 5-3. The council voted 7-1 in August 2020 to table to request indefinitely, letting the grant deadline expire.
Council members who voted on the issue in 2020 said they felt there was more information available now and that school administrators and police appeared to make a conscious effort to address the council's past concerns. Sonia Gutierrez Harvey, who voted against the proposal both times in 2020, said arrest and citation data at the time showed a disproportionate impact on students of color. Data Police Chief Mike Reynolds presented Tuesday showed fewer arrests and citations last school year, and that school administrators were taking a holistic approach to student safety, she said.
"The conversation has changed. I do think we've made a lot of progress," Harvey said. "I want to thank everyone who has worked incredibly and diligently."
The School District has six resource officers for its 16 campuses. The proposal will add one more this school year. The district pays the officers' hourly wage during the school year, and the city pays for the remaining days of the year, along with benefits.
Several school administrators, teachers and staff, including Superintendent John L Colbert, asked the council to approve the request. Reynolds presented data and videos of when officers responded to a shooting situation on Dickson Street in April and when officer Stephen Carr was shot to death in 2019 as examples of how the city's officers react in those kinds of situations.
The council amended the proposal 8-0 early on in the discussion to put money toward enabling school resource officers to pursue certification in social work. The amendment, sponsored by council member Sloan Scroggin, will provide $3,000 to each school resource officer to pursue certification in social work or college-level classes toward earning a degree in social work or counseling. Pursuing the certification or additional education would be optional to the officers.
Reynolds said he welcomed more opportunities for officer education and supported the amendment.
From 2016 to 2020, the city's school resource officers averaged issuing 44 student citations and making six arrests per year, according to statistics Reynolds provided. Last school year, officers issued 18 student citations and made three arrests, he said.
Resident Thaddeus McCleary asked the council to reject the measure, saying he was glad to see the number of interactions between students and resource officers declined last year, but a racial disparity still exists. He stressed the need for other measures supporting school safety, such as reduced class sizes and more social workers and counselors.
Denice Nelson, a retired Fayetteville teacher, said sometimes students will seek out school resources officers instead of counselors, and in that way, officers provide security in an immeasurable way. She asked the council to support the proposal, adding that Fayetteville bucks national trends as far as negative impacts on students by school resource officers.
Fayetteville’s City Council met Tuesday and approved:
• A resolution to congratulate the University of Arkansas Athletics Department for being selected by CBS Sports as the fifth best in the nation.
• Accepting a $1.4 million matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation to help pay for construction of the Yvonne Richardson Community Center expansion, including a second story. The council also approved a $754,200 agreement with MBL Architects for the expansion’s design.
• A nearly $5 million agreement with Nabholz Construction for work on West Avenue and the Razorback Greenway as part of the next phase of construction at the cultural arts corridor downtown.
• Authorizing Mayor Lioneld Jordan to sign the annual Community Development Block Grant agreement for $725,638 this year.
• Authorizing Jordan to sign an offer to purchase West End apartments near Wedington Drive and Interstate 49 for $1.39 million. The area floods frequently, and city administrators propose tearing down the structure to replace it with green space.