LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — As Kentucky’s largest school district finishes its first year creating a mobile police force and prepares to spend millions more on security, there is scant information showing how the new program is faring.
Jefferson County Public Schools debuted school safety officers during the 2022-2023 academic year, part of a safety plan that includes placing armed and trained officers close to schools and ready to respond during emergencies.
In crafting the initiative, the Jefferson County Board of Education developed a checklist of reports and documents to track the plan. Those include “regular reports” about the program and other notifications each time an officer responds to an incident at a school.
But administrators haven’t produced those records, leaving the elected school board’s members and the public with no comprehensive way to understand officers’ first year even as $3.4 million is proposed for the program in next year’s budget, a WDRB News review has found.
“I don’t like people to not know the truth about what’s going on,” said school board member Linda Duncan, who said she asked in April for information about the school safety officer, or SSO, program.
Instead, Duncan said she was told that data for the full year will be made available in June. In the past, she said, Louisville police often led the response to security calls at schools and didn’t provide information such as arrests.
“We’re hoping all of that data is with us and we get a very accurate picture,” she said. “But for some reason now they’re wanting to review what they do have before they share that with us.”
No one from the administration of Superintendent Marty Pollio was available for an interview, spokeswoman Carolyn Callahan said in an email, explaining that the school district is restructuring its police and security team and looking for a new police chief.
The district eventually hopes to have 30 officers in place, but has just two on staff, Callahan said in written responses to questions. (JCPS also has a dozen sworn and armed officers who also respond to incidents at schools.)
She said the policies that govern the SSO program “cannot be implemented until we have a team assembled and assigned as designated in the proposal.”
The proposal, approved by the school board in January 2022, calls for officers to be assigned to a cluster of three to seven schools, responding when asked by that school’s administration to help with an emergency.
It’s part of a larger school safety effort that created two new security positions: safety administrators who work inside schools and help monitor potential threats and concerns, and the safety officers outside.
Callahan did not answer a question asking whether the reports required by policy will only be made available once the full 30 officers are hired. Pollio said last December he expects it will “take multiple years” to reach the staffing goal, citing challenges of hiring law enforcement officers across the U.S.
With just a few officers in place, Callahan said the main police response to school incidents comes from Louisville Metro government via 911 calls.
The school district provided just four documents in response to requests WDRB made under Kentucky’s open records law in January and May for records about SSOs. The documents sought covered nearly all of the recently ended school year and are required by policy.
Only one – a PowerPoint presentation from last December – addressed the rollout of the safety officer program. But it included no concrete examples of its effectiveness or data that must be provided to board members.
School district policies also require a Community Data Review Team to inspect and analyze SSO incidents. But the school district produced no records showing that the group has been created, including any meeting minutes.
Callahan said once the team of officers is “fully staffed, the Community Data Review Team will be established.”
The school district also did not produce other records required by its own policy, such as copies of detention and arrest reports sent to the district’s chief security administrator, or the school board’s general counsel.
Kevin Brown, the general counsel, did not return a message left at his office.
School board chair Diane Porter did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Board member Sarah McIntosh didn’t respond to an interview request; members Corrie Shull and Joe Marshall each spoke briefly with a reporter and promised to call back, but didn’t.
School board members who spoke with WDRB cited a presentation late last year as the main update on the SSO program during the 2022-23 school year.
That December 13 meeting included a wide-ranging discussion about the school district’s safety plan. Two students who spoke to the board said the safety administrators were a constant presence in their schools and made them feel safer.
At that time, the board was told there were five newly hired SSOs, as well as two other security employees who had been promoted into the officer positions.
“We have five candidates that were already state-certified peace officers — either retired or transferred from another agency,” Stan Mullen, the school district’s director of security and investigations, said at that meeting. “This allowed us to train them rapidly and send them to schools as school safety officers with minimum time lost.”
Callahan said the two current SSOs are from that group, while two others are in training and another took a job elsewhere. Two others are planning to start police training this summer, finishing in December, she said.
“We are hoping to have another cohort of SSOs hired in the next few weeks who will then need to go to the (police) academy if they are not existing sworn officers,” she said. “There is a rigorous process to become an SSO including interviews, screenings, and physical assessments – sometimes people choose to not continue or do not pass some aspects of the requirements.”
Meanwhile, the school board last month took a step toward adding weapon detection systems in middle and high schools. The goal is to introduce the technology in high schools during the upcoming school year, with middle schools following in 2024-25.
Board member Chris Kolb said it’s “pretty concerning” that JCPS is pursuing the technology without assessing the safety officer program, which when factoring in the in-school administrators cost $9 million during its first year. Kolb was one of two votes against seeking proposals for the weapons detectors in May.
“I am worried that we’re kind of playing whack-a-mole a little bit with all these different potential solutions, as opposed to really focusing on a few things that could be really meaningful,” Kolb said.
But board member James Craig argued that there is hard data – the number of guns found in schools, for instance – that support the rollout of the new technology while the SSO program is developing.
He also said it’s his understanding that data on the safety officers’ work has been slow to develop because “there isn’t just enough data to collect in order to meet those policy requirements.”
“Marty’s staff is taxed, to say the least,” Craig said. “So if something has slipped through the cracks here I’m not necessarily shocked because of the amount of change that has happened right now and change that is necessary.”
As board members wait for data on the nascent SSO program, they also recently enhanced pay for starting officers in a bid to make the positions more competitive.
A recruit with no previous law enforcement experience will make $25.88 per hour starting July 1, an increase of nearly 14 percent. Once he or she obtains a peace officer certification, the pay would bump up to $28.24 per hour.
“The security position should be the most attractive security position in the city of Louisville,” Craig said. “If you’re coming out of the (police) academy, if you’re coming out of school and then you’re considering a field, a profession in law enforcement, JCPS needs to be the most attractive position.”
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