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Chief: Funds needed for school cop



Published: Wed, November 1, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The chief said funding a school resource officer is money well spent.

By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

LEETONIA -- Police Chief John Soldano said he will accept donations from just about anywhere to keep the department's school resource officer at Leetonia's school complex, which houses kindergarten through 12th grades at one location.

Soldano said his SRO is the last in Columbiana County still funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, which expires Dec. 31.

He said that people donate to police departments periodically and that he hopes individuals or groups will see the value of a school resource officer and be willing to help raise the money needed to retain the job.

Both the village and Leetonia school district have limited funding, but Soldano said he has been talking to school officials about ways to fund the SRO at least through the end of the 2006-07 school year.

Soldano has a budget of $325,000 for all the department's expenses, from salaries and benefits of police and dispatchers to office supplies. He said the salary and benefits package for the SRO is about $35,000 annually.

Currently in the position

Soldano said Curtis Wetzel has been employed full time as the department's SRO in Leetonia Schools since 2005.

Because of the timing of the grant, Wetzel started as SRO with about three weeks left in the 2004-05 school year.

"I want to keep him for a lot of reasons," Soldano said. "First of all, he does a good job all the way around for us. Second, I don't want to sound like I'm just going over the same old story, but violence in schools is on the upswing again, and we're not immune to that.

"At any time during the school day, there are 900 people or more up there -- teachers, staff and students," Soldano said. "What better response time could you have than an officer already at the school? Funding a school resource officer is money well spent."

A school resource officer is employed full time by the municipality, but he spends about 70 percent of his time working directly in the school, develops a rapport with staff and pupils, and participates in school and community events, Soldano explained.

"He's my officer but assigned to the school 40 hours a week," he said.

When school is not in session, a school resource officer continues to work full time on regular shifts for the village, Soldano added.

He said Wetzel had been a part-time patrolman for the village before becoming the department's SRO. There aren't any other full-time positions available in the department, so if no funding is available specifically for an SRO, Soldano said Wetzel will return to part-time status.

tullis@vindy.com




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