Othello Police get grant to hire second school officer

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | September 21, 2020 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — The Othello City Police Department is getting a second school resource officer.

Speaking at an online meeting of the city council on Monday, Othello Police Chief Phil Schenck told council members that the police department was recently awarded a four-year, $125,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to defray some of the costs of hiring the new officer.

“What this does is it places a second SRO, one at the middle school and one at the high school,” Schenck said. “The officer will still answer calls at all the schools, and that allows us to improve safety.”

Schenck said the move will also give the Othello Police the opportunity to establish better relations with young people in Othello.

“If you’re looking at the state of the world, creating relations with young people is critical at this point,” the police chief said.

The grant will cover a portion of the cost of hiring the new school resource officer for three years, but requires the city and the school district to cover the costs of retaining the officer for a fourth year, Schenck said.

According to an agreement reached between the city and the school district, the district and the federal grant will pay salary and benefits for the officer at an average of $99,000 per year for the first three years, with the city and the school district expected to split the final year salary of $106,000 evenly at $53,000 each.

The city will pick up the costs of providing the officer’s uniforms, training, equipment, a vehicle and fuel at an average cost of $17,000 each year for four years.

Council members unanimously approved the agreement.

Schenck, who expressed a desire at a joint meeting last week between the Othello City Council and the Othello School Board to bring the D.A.R.E Program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — back into the city’s schools, said both officers could be trained as program instructors.

“One SRO could provide D.A.R.E. content, but we will probably train both,” he said. “And we’ll focus on the elementary schools; they are more open to hearing the message.”

Mayor Shawn Logan said that despite the pandemic, and the closure of many of the city’s businesses for a time as well as the imposition of a city-wide hiring freeze, Othello is ahead on sales tax revenue and has the ability right now to budget for a new school resource officer.

“We’ve suspended a lot of things,” Logan said. “We have actually been blessed. We’ve met our revenue projections, and the chief’s request is based on that information.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabaisnherald.com