In 2017, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District was facing a numbers problem: how to justify spending $250,000 on Seaside, Monterey and Marina’s school resource officer programs. One element was money, and the other was data, or lack thereof.
As to the former problem, their short-term solution was to keep funding the programs through the 2017-18 school year. Their long-term solution was to have the cities foot the bill entirely. Both Seaside and Monterey decided to continue fully funding their SRO programs in August 2018, and police officers have remained on those campuses.
Regardless of the funding source, members of Building Healthy Communities and the local chapter of the NAACP were concerned about another set of numbers and asked for data to show whether student safety correlated to the presence of police officers in schools. The answer, in 2017: there was no such data. The answer as of Feb. 26, when MPUSD staff presented survey results to the board: It depends.
Nonprofit YouthTruth conducted a survey for MPUSD, asking students to respond to the statement, “The school resource officer (police officer) on campus makes me feel safe.” Of 1,984 elementary school students responding, 71 percent said SROs made schools safer; the highest perception of safety was at La Mesa Elementary School, with 82 percent.
But as the student populations ages, their answers change and their positive perception of SROs diminishes. At the middle school level, only 47 percent of the 1,601 middle-schoolers surveyed felt SROs made their campus feel safer. Among 2,122 high-schoolers, 43 percent said they made schools safer.
“These surveys are some of the most important pieces of information we have,” MPUSD board member Wendy Root Askew says.
Monterey and Seaside PD have also agreed to provide data on SROs. Figures show that in the 2018-19 school year to date, there have been 19 citations and seven arrests on Monterey school campuses; 39 students have been searched and 63 students have been questioned. Seaside is gathering data and has yet to report it.