Updated: October 25, 2011 12:29AM
Do all Chicago public high schools really need two Chicago police officers stationed inside them every day — at a cost of $25 million a year?
The tab for police service — begun under former Mayor Richard M. Daley — recently more than tripled, prompting Chicago Public School officials faced with a $712 million deficit to start taking a hard look at whether every penny of that cost is being spent effectively.
“We’re looking at if we need two police officers in every high school all day long. My guess is we don’t,” CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“We hope to reduce our expenses in that area, but only in those schools where we can do that without compromising safety.”
Some schools may not need any officers; others might be able to get by with only one, Cawley said. Or, off-duty officers could be hired instead of on-duty police, Cawley said.
The uniformed officers, stationed in high school rooms outfitted with police department computers, are supposed to provide “a presence” — especially at arrival and departure times, Cawley said. They also can help with weapons screenings, record school problems and provide a quick response to any “ruckus,” he said.
However, one principal, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “I’ve had officers who, unless there is a riot, they are not coming out of their room. That’s an awful lot of down time.”
Others are more proactive, offering to mentor students, mediate disputes and walk the halls. “It varies from school to school and officer to officer,” the principal said.
“Principals talk, and some principals would say, ‘Mine are wonderful and do all this.’ Others would say, ‘I wish they got out into the halls more.’ It’s not consistent. I think it’s absolutely wise to review [the police service]. There’s a lot of good the police could provide.”
Since 2009, CPS had been paying the Chicago Police Department $8 million a year to station two police officers at roughly 100 high schools for eight hours a school day. That breaks down to roughly $80,000 per school.
It was a “sweet deal,” Cawley said, but the numbers didn’t reflect the real cost of police services and supervision, which the police department has insisted for years is closer to $25 million. That’s roughly $250,000 per high school.
Finally, after Rahm Emanuel took office as mayor in May and appointed his new schools team, CPS agreed to cough up $25 million a year — as well as to reimburse the police department for underpayments since 2009.
The new arrangement is creating $70 million in new charges just as Chicago School Board members contend the system doesn’t have the $80 million needed to fund 4 percent teacher raises this coming school year.
“We had no choice. I did not want to do it. I wish it weren’t the real cost,” Cawley said of the new police tab.
“It’s the right thing to do. We owe them. I’m not the referee on this one. I know the current administration is appropriately saying one [city] agency that uses the services of another ought to, with transparency and accountability, pay what they owe them.”
Schools in high-risk neighborhoods need at least two cops, said Shawnta Robinson, a June graduate of Julian High. The police presence at Julian has been helpful and well-balanced, she said.
Robinson said she formed a “connection” with one Julian police officer who bought some candy from her. “When I needed to talk to somebody, he would talk to me,” she said.
Julian’s officers occasionally walk the halls but not enough to be an oppressive presence, said Robinson, a member of the Mikva Challenge Youth Safety Council, which has met with CPS officials on safety issues. Mostly during the day, “they just sit in the police office. They don’t really do anything until after an altercation happens.”
The police are especially valuable before and after school, when their outdoor patrols make kids feel safe and protected, Robinson said.
During school hours, “I just think they are there to scare kids so kids won’t get into altercations. If we didn’t have cops in our school, I think more kids would act up.”
However, Sara Martinez, a recent Curie High grad, said she did not think it was necessary to spend $25 million a year on police in schools.
“We already have security officers. What’s the point of having police officers there?” said Martinez, another Safety Council member.
“Do they have to be there all the time? It makes the culture of the school more tense. It can feel like jail sometimes.”