The city is adding eight police positions to its force — five of them to provide school-resource-officers to Hamilton schools next school year, and one to add a second patrol to the city’s downtown area.
The other two positions will help supplement other police work, such as traffic work and community policing, and help fill out police schedules when officers are injured or otherwise out of service, Police Chief Craig Bucheit said.
In a cooperative effort, the city’s school system is paying 75 percent of the resource officers’ total costs, including their salaries and benefits.
“It’s a safety measure that becomes more and more desirable every year, with everything that’s happening around the country (with violent attacks),” said Larry Knapp, business manager for the school district. “We feel that it’s the best thing that we can do for the district.”
“It’s just a great opportunity for both us and the schools to get these officers,” Bucheit said. “We’re going to work together on the selection process to identify those officers who are interested, have a passion for being in the schools, and get them trained this summer. There’s a certification program to become a resource officer.”
Officers will be stationed at Hamilton High School, the Hamilton Freshman School, Garfield Middle School, Wilson Middle School and the new Miami School at the former Partners in Prime building. They also will visit elementary schools as needed.
When school is out for the summer — typically, a busy time for police — the added officers will be available for other policing duties, including staffing of concerts and other community events. That’s the basis for Hamilton paying 25 of the officers’ costs.
Currently, officers are in the schools on a rotating basis, but having the same officer stationed at a school all the time will build friendships and trust among them, students, faculty and staff.
“The big upside is having that consistency, that continuity, of having the same officer at the same school every day, building relationships with the faculty and staff, and most importantly with the students,” Bucheit said.
Knapp agreed: “The biggest plus with all of this is that when you have one officer assigned to a building, that resource officer can build relationships with kids. And when that happens, then generally it’s a better rapport with the entire student body, and if something is maybe going to happen, then those relationships become very important, because kids will talk to people who they know.”
The schools try to encourage students, when they “See Something, Say Something” to a person in authority, Knapp said. “This just gives us one more opportunity to keep kids and staff safe.”
The city is in the process of hiring new officers, and swore in nine new officers Friday, some to fill empty positions. The exact cost of the new programs borne by the schools will depend on the years of experience and pay rates of the officers who are chosen to work in the schools, officials said.
“Safety and security is certainly something that’s in the front of everyone’s minds,” Bucheit said. “We certainly want the students in the city schools, their parents and their families to know their safe — the faculty and staff that are in these buildings, their safety and security certainly is one of our primary concerns.”
“But beyond that, something we focus on every day is community engagement, building and strengthening relationships in the community, and I think this is just a natural extension of that,” Bucheit said.
Hamilton now has one full-time walking-beat officer downtown, and will be adding a second in about April.
“With all the businesses, restaurants and shops that have opened up and that are slated to open, servicing that core business area is a priority for us,” Bucheit said. “There’s a lot more people downtown, a lot more pedestrians, a lot more traffic, and all those things need the attention of an officer on a regular basis.”
Historically the existing officer has worked the area from Ohio 4 to Eaton Avenue on the High-Main corridor, “but that’s a lot of ground to cover for one person,” Bucheit said. “With the growth we expect over the next couple years, beginning this year, it definitely deserves the support of another full-time officer.”
Fabrizio “Breez” Gallo, manager of Jocko’s World Famous Chicken & Seafood on High Street, applauded the addition of another officer dedicated to downtown. Already, the one officer has made a big difference, particularly in decreasing the numbers of panhandlers and people going into large trash receptaciles for food.
“It’s good, because the businesses feel more comfortable, they’ve got less people asking for money,” Gallo said. “We ran them off, because customers don’t want to be bothered when we’re eating.”
“In the past years, it was bad, to the point where we put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, we called the police,” Gallo said. “That has all stopped,” he said, crediting added police presence for that.