COLUMBIA — Three Columbia Public Schools resource officers were pulled out of schools on Monday to patrol the streets of Columbia.
Council members Laura Nauser and Almeta Crayton said at Monday night’s council meeting that they were displeased with the pullout of resource officers, even as a temporary solution.
“(Police) have more influence on kids when they are smaller and younger,” Crayton said. “You have to do it in the beginning because the trouble starts in the middle school.”
Crayton said she thinks the officers need to be in the schools doing prevention work to stop youth from turning to the streets.
“By high school it is too late,” she said. “There is no time to wait. We need to get to these kids right now.”
During a City Council meeting last month, Nauser said that resource officers need to be able to build those key relationships with children.
The decision to put the officers on regular patrols comes as the Columbia Police Department tries to fill seven vacant positions.
City Manager Bill Watkins gave the go-ahead to Cheif Randy Boehm to hire new officers last week, but it isn’t known yet where the money will come from.
At the City Council meeting on Monday, Watkins assured the council that officers would be returned to the middle schools no later than next fall. The decision is a temporary solution to get more experienced officers onto the streets until the department’s vacancies are filled, he said.
Officer Eric White, sergeant of the community youth services unit, said Boehm made the final decision to pull the officers from the schools.
White said while he was unhappy with the decision, he understood why it needed to be made.
“The number one priority has to be to keep officers patrolling the streets,” White said. “Some patrolling is better than none at all.”
Two of the three resource officers were from Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, and the third came out of Lange Middle School. Gentry and Smithton middle schools’ resource officers were moved to the high schools for the remainder of the school year, leaving each middle school without a full-time resource officer.
For this semester, the remaining resource officers will share duties between their primary high school and the middle schools.
Michelle Baumstark, communications director for Columbia Public Schools, thinks this could bring challenges in the future but said the schools and the officers will be able to make it work for the remainder of the year.
“Anytime your resources are reduced, it becomes a challenge,” Baumstark said. “Ultimately, we want to provide the best resources possible for our students.”