By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- As has been the case for many years now, the police liaison officer position is again under scrutiny as district officials prepare the annual budget and look for areas to trim.
This time, administrators have drawn township officials into the discussion, requesting a 50-50 cost split for funding of the position.
At the township board’s Feb. 6 meeting, District Superintendent Matt Outlaw and School Board President Kevin McClellan formally asked for help from the township.
“The liaison is very important to us,” said Outlaw. “Our partnership with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is unsustainable to us. This officer doesn’t just operate for the school district. He works for the community.”
The township contracts with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office annually for 12 deputies for a total budgeted cost in 2016 of $1,954,649. The cost for the school liason officer is $131,509, of which the school district currently reimburses the township $94,693, for the time the officer is in the Brandon schools during the school year.
The district has been bearing the majority of the cost for the position since 2011, even though the school liaison handles many police matters that occur outside of school, including Child Protective Services cases stemming from situations at home (six of these since September), as well as assaults, larcenies, and drug-related offenses related to youth.
In a letter to board members in January floating a proposal for shared cost of the position, Outlaw requested the district pay an additional $47,346.50, which would results in the township paying a total of $84,162.50 for the position, instead of their current portion of $36,816. Outlaw wrote that while access to young people during the school day is a great benefit, most of the school liaison officer’s work is for the community as opposed to school business. He also made the case that 70 percent of time spent by the youth of the community is outside of school time and if the position was cut by the district, the community responsibilities would remain for the police department, including handling all youth crime within the community.
“During the 2016-17 school (year), only one arrest was made from an issue originating from the school,” wrote Outlaw. “Youth abuse and neglect cases are a major duty of the officer and these are specific to the home and not the schools.”
He went on to note that much of the benefit of having a school liaison officer is preventative.
“By forming positive relationships with students, the hope is that crime can be diminished in the community and also be kept out of the schools. On a daily basis, the police liaison helps with supervision, shares information with the administrative team and helps to coordinate police presence at events and assists with traffic control.”
In both the letter and at the township board meeting, Outlaw reiterated that the district values the school liaison officer, but can’t continue the current funding level. If the township doesn’t accept the 50-50 split proposed by the district, it will end the district’s partnership with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and school officials will to hire a retired police officer from a private security agency.
“We are asking for help,” said McClellan to the township board. “Staying with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is preferred, but it has to be sustainable.”
OCSO Sgt. Dale Brown, who also serves as a detective at the Brandon substation, said without the school liaison officer to investigate youth cases, his own workload would increase, meaning less time to investigate adult-related crimes in a timely manner in the township.
“Having a school liaison officer allows us to keep our high clearance rate on cases,” added Brown, who noted that students tell the liaison officer things they wouldn’t tell their parents or another officer.. “He is a boon for this community and for a reduction in crime.”
OCSO Lt. Greg Glover, Brandon substation commander, also noted that there is not a school district in the county that funds their liaison officer positon 100 percent and suggested that Groveland Township could also help with the cost. Groveland Township does not have a police contract with any agency, relying solely on Michigan State Police for law enforcement when needed (without cost to the township), but has several hundred residents who attend school in Brandon.
Glover also said that if the district dismantled their OCSO partnership and hired a private security company, that agency’s employee would have no police powers and the OCSO would still be sending an officer to the schools for police matters.
Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman said after the meeting that the board would discuss the proposal and she would speak to Outlaw in regards to a contractual agreement.
“The way it was explained by Lt. Glover gave me a different perspective,” she said. “I didn’t realize that while the police liaison officer was working in the schools that he was actually working on cases that he would be working on had he not been physically in the schools. I am looking forward to working something out with the school to keep the OCSO in there.”