Council accepts school district’s proposal to keep liaison officer in Little Falls schools

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The City Council accepted a proposed increase from the Little Falls School District to help pay for the liaison police officer at the schools. Officer David Stumpf has held the position since it was instituted in 2001.

The School District proposed paying the city an additional $1,000 for the 2014-15 school year ($27,000) and another $1,000 in 2015-16 ($28,000), with the city picking up the rest of the cost for the officer.

During its June 2 work session, City Administrator Dan Vogt noted the cost for the seasoned officer for the city is $49,000 for the nine-month period, and said the Council should look at the rate the district reimbursed the city for those services. A less experienced officer might cost the city $40,000 for the same time period, he said.

He suggested the Council may want to ask for more money from the district, closer to the cost to the city as the benefit is district-wide.

Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder said he thought the school district promised it would look at making the split cost more equal and asked to have Supt. Steve Jones come to the next meeting.

Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers said Stumpf had special training to work in the schools, knows students by name and builds a strong relationship with the kids. He is also visible at many sporting events, and if there is a need, other officers are also on hand. “The guys are great about just stopping in at football and basketball games (during the regular shifts),” said Schirmers.

“When Dave talks, kids listen,” said Council President Don Klinker.

Schirmers noted Stumpf had about three to four years left before the department would look to replace him.

Jones said the program benefits both the district and the community at large. He also noted that when Stumpf is on-call for the city, he lets school officials know and is able to leave if needed during the school day.

“There are a lot of duties that the school resource officer just naturally does in the course of a school day, such as helping with student problems and issues; traffic control and safety; truancy; parent and community liaison/communication and crisis response,” said Jones.

“But the bulk of our expectation for this officer is to create meaningful relationships with students at all grade levels. We want his person to be visible and create trust among the young people; ultimately, it is these relationships which the Police Department finds to be beneficial outside of the school district itself,” said Jones.

He said having Stumpf (or a liaison officer) has virtually eliminated any need for on-duty officers to be called to the schools during the day.

“One other piece of this position is that the resource officer is present at many of our evening activities — to be a presence. In terms of school and community environment, this position is well worth the collaborative investment and a ‘good deal’ for both the district and the city,” Jones said.

Stumpf said he is still a community police officer, but that his “community” was within the schools. He estimates his “community” numbers about 2,000, between the high school, middle school and elementary schools.

“I’m the community police officer for the school district, just like officers are in Randall, Royalton and Pierz,” he said.

Stumpf handles all of the calls that come in to a police department — doing what any officer would do in the community. “It’s just that my community happens to be the school district,” he said.

Kids come to Stumpf with a lot of issues, including issues at home, he said. “A lot of my job involves counseling,” he said. “I work closely with the social workers in all the buildings, do welfare checks and home visits where needed, go out for truancies and encourage kids to come to school.”

Some of the kids even have Stumpf’s phone number.

“Some kids are on their own and a lot of times those kids will call me saying they missed the bus and need a ride — and I’ll come get them,” he said.

When he first started, Stumpf said the kids didn’t know what to expect.

“Now that I’ve been up there, I’ve got a relationship with all the kids. I’ve been working with these kids from kindergarten through high school and they’re extremely comfortable having me around.”

Stumpf said he makes an effort to get to know all of the kids.

“Obviously, that’s not possible, but I try my best. I work closely with parents and parents often call me on school-related issues,” he said.

While the school is his community, he said he assists if the city needs help, or officers will help if he needs it.

“My community has kind of shrunk a little. I’m not patrolling the whole city anymore, but the school district,” said Stumpf. “And I walk the beat.”

He visits the elementary schools a couple times a week, the middle school daily and is based at the high school.

Stumpf has an office at the high school and a computer with access to the police department to write reports. “Anything with the police department, I can do at the school,” he said.

The training Stumpf received in 2001 (through a grant), outlined the different laws that pertain to schools and the resources available to students.

Sometimes kids have a lot of problems, he said, and he talks with students about the resources available to them.

“I get ‘thank yous’ all the time from the kids and from the parents,” he said. “I kind of think that every kid in that building is my kid and I really try to help them out; I truly do.”

Stumpf said he preaches to the kids to be a part of their community.

“Kids at that age, especially for high school kids,  school is their community; that’s where they spend a lot of their time,” he said. “I encourage kids to be actively involved in school activities, because when they become young adults and get out into a community, you’d like to see that carry over, to get involved in the community they live in and be respectful to their community and the people in their community.”