When Sandwich High School students return to school in August, they will see a new staff member – a sworn officer from the Sandwich Police Department.
The officer will be the first one to serve as a regular member of the staff, according to an agreement approved by the city council, police department and school administrators.
The officer will be on duty at the school during all times when classes are in session as well as for various other events where students will be in attendance, according to the agreement.
The officer, known as a school resource officer, will be a trained Sandwich police officer.
But he or she also will be trained as a school resource officer with a recommended minimum of 48 hours of National Association of School Resource Officer training, the agreement says.
The officer must remain on the school grounds during normal school hours except when necessary to attend to a law enforcement emergency or on limited occasions to attend to official law enforcement business off campus.
The agreement says the officer must wear the official law enforcement uniform or other apparel issued by the city at all times while serving on school district property.
For purposes of consistency, the designated officer must remain in that position for the duration of the school year unless he or she leaves the employment of the city or his or her removal is agreed to by police and school district officials.
According to the agreement, the officer is not a school disciplinarian and cannot be involved in the enforcement of disciplinary infractions that are not violations of the law.
The agreement says the officer must confer with the school principal to develop plans and strategies to prevent or minimize dangerous situations on or near the campus or involving students at school-related activities. He also will serve on the district's safety committee.
The office also should participate in or attend school functions whenever possible or when requested by school administrators to assure the peaceful operation of school-related programs.
The agreement outlines 23 specific duties of the officer between the district and the police department.
The school district will pay the city half of the compensation costs, including salary and benefits of the officer, from the time of the agreement until the end of each school year.
The agreement says the officer, when requested, will assist with searches of lockers, desks, parking lots and other district property for illegal drugs, weapons or other illegal or dangerous substances or materials.
The officer also should be available to attend suspension reviews and or expulsion hearings if requested to testify to actions taken by the officer or conduct witnessed by the officer.
The six-page agreement was approved 6-1, with Alderman Les Redden voting against it. He noted that the city's portion of the cost was not included in the city's present budget.
Police Chief Jim Bianchi said the agreement is for a minimum of three years but it must be reviewed before each annual renewal to be sure it is up to date.
Sandwich High School Principal Tom Sodaro attended an earlier council meeting when the issue was first discussed.
Sodaro said he has been working with the police department to have a liaison in the high school to work with the students to make sure that those needs are met.
"The police do a great job now, but obviously having someone in the building working with the kids, with traffic and things like that, would be a great addition to have right now," he said.
Sodaro said school officials have been talking about having a resource officer at the high school.
He said the officer will be assigned to the 700-student high school, but will be expected to also spend time in the district's five other schools.
"This officer will be a liaison officer between the school and police department working with the students so they can know the police officer and gain their respect. Having a police officer in the schools will be an extra precaution in helping them stay safe," he added.
Communication tower approved
In other business, council members approved a request to install a 300-foot communication tower for the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office. The request asked for a special-use permit to allow the tower to be built on property at 400 Reimann Ave. The usual maximum height for such a tower is 180 feet tall, Mayor Rick Olson noted when he introduced the request.
The special-use permit also allows the tower to be closer than 1,000 feet from other towers or antennas as usually allowed.
The property is zoned M-2 General Manufacturing.
Officials said the area around the tower will be maintained by the sheriff's office.
In response to a question from Alderman Pete Dell, the sheriff's department will be responsible for removal of the tower if its use should be discontinued some time in the future.
Council members also approved a request to rezone property at 721 Cedar St. from R-2 (single-family) to R-3 (two-family), for construction of a duplex on the site.