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Citrus Heights Police Chief says cost could run $2.5M to put cops in schools

Citrus Heights Police Chief Alex Turcotte discusses costs involved in assigning officers to school campuses, during a Jan. 12, 2023 council meeting. // Image credit: Metro Cable 14

By Sara Beth Williams–
During the Citrus Heights City Council meeting on Jan. 12, Mike Jones with San Juan Unified Safe Schools program presented the 2022-23 Site Safety and Vulnerability assessment findings completed by the district’s Safe Schools program.

The assessment focused on four areas of analysis, including crime statistics of the surrounding community, security and vulnerability of the campus, safety planning and training, and school culture and environment.

The assessment found that schools in the district, including all Citrus Heights campuses “to some degree,” need upgraded facility improvements, including improved fencing and gates, and district-wide standardized door locks, which allow doors to lock on the inside without a key.

Safe Schools has an earmarked budget of $10 million in bond monies thus far to finance the upgrades. Jones said a timeline for completion of projects was not available. Each school facilities team will be working on the necessary designs and upgrades for their respective campuses.

When asked by Councilwoman Jayna Karpinski-Costa about how many schools in Citrus Heights need more fencing, Jones mentioned that all of the schools need some kind of improvement in fencing.

Vice Mayor Bret Daniels asked Jones why the Safe Schools program moved away from having law enforcement officers on campuses as of 2018. Jones cited a lack of staffing for off-duty officers from the Sacramento Sheriff’s office, and a lack of funding.

Jones said the new district’s model from 2018 to the present employs the use of community safety specialists instead of law enforcement. He emphasized that they are not armed, but are highly trained in active threat response, critical incident management, crisis communication, crime prevention and de-escalation.

“I truly believe that most acts of school violence are preventable,” Jones said, adding that school safety and behavioral threat assessment is a collaborative effort between safety specialists and other community groups, such as the Citrus Heights Police Department and Family and Community Engagement (FACE).

Officers in schools?
After the Safe Schools presentation, Citrus Heights Chief of Police Alex Turcotte provided an estimate on the fiscal impact of putting a police officer in each Citrus Heights public school. Turcotte reported that the initial cost would be $1.8 million, with an annual cost of $2.58 million to continue to maintain police staffing in each school.

The financial estimate primarily covers the salaries for 12 officers (one for each public school campus in Citrus Heights) plus three administrative and supervisory staff, 15 police vehicles at $90,000 each, and other necessary equipment, training and operation services.

Daniels questioned the necessity of some of the costs involved, like whether new vehicles would be needed for officers stationed on a campus. Turcotte said figures presented were only estimates, and that actual costs could be higher or lower depending on numerous variables.

Both Mayor Tim Schaefer and Daniels sought to move forward with a motion to look into funding sources for providing police presence on campuses, but other council members voiced disagreement.

“I’m not sure we need to look at budgeting money as much as [the school district] needs to look at fixing up the security of their campuses,” Karpinski-Costa said. “Safe Schools needs to invest in schools before we invest in schools.”

Councilwoman MariJane Lopez-Taff also said the city shouldn’t have to pursue funding for school safety when the district is pursuing improvements, and asked for statistics on incidents at local schools. Turcotte mentioned at least two “real world” calls that initially sounded like they could have been serious threats, and said in both cases schools were locked down in under six minutes.

In cautioning words before the council moved on to the next agenda item without taking action, Schaefer said he’d rather spend time on “an ounce of prevention,” rather look back in hindsight if a school shooting were to occur.

“I don’t want to come back here after the next shooting happens and say, ‘yea we kind of looked at that and yea we decided not to,'” said Schaefer. “I just don’t know how I could sleep at night if I didn’t really take that seriously.”

The City Council did not take any action on Turcotte’s report or the Safe Schools presentation, as both items were not action items. Turcotte also said his report was a “high-level initial analysis, not a recommendation,” prompted at the request of the City Council last year.

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