by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Due to changes in the requirements of community-oriented policing services (COPS) grants administered by the United States Department of Justice, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office now sees the grants as a very attractive way to provide additional staffing.
In past years, a smaller percentage of the cost of hiring new officers was included in the grant.
“The focus this year is on school liaisons and hiring military veterans,” said Sheriff Michel Wetzel. “It will be tough to get because of the limited number of grants, but if we don’t apply we have zero chance of receiving one.”
The grant would provide for 75 percent of the cost of the base salary and benefits for an officer for three years. The county would be responsible for the remaining costs of hiring, training and retaining the officer. The county would be required to retain the officer in the school liaison position for a minimum of one year beyond the grant time period.
“Our 25 percent of the base salary for three years, step increases, uniforms, training, vehicle cost and 100 percent of the fourth year would run very roughly about $142,200,” said Wetzel.
In the event the county receives the grant, Wetzel plans to deploy the new school resource officer at high schools in Swanville and Upsala.
“We have primary jurisdiction in those two schools, and currently there is no school liaison there,” Wetzel said. “Both schools are interested.”
Just as important a consideration for the sheriff is the fact that the officer would be available during the summers when the need is high and the department is critically short of staff.
“It’s a proven fact that having law enforcement in the schools develops a camaraderie with the students,” said Commissioner Jeff Jelinski. “I will absolutely support this for our children.”
“The COPS grant, if awarded to Morrison County, would offset the cost of a resource officer to be deployed to the two school districts in the county that are in towns without police presence,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “Also, this position would be used to fill vacant patrol shifts during the summer months when we struggle to provide coverage due to busy schedules.”