Lebanon schools would get first police officer in deal with city

For the first time, a police officer would be assigned to Lebanon High School through a proposed partnership between the city and school district.

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The proposed new arrangement, assigning a school resource officer to patrol the high school and other district schools, comes after more than a year of discussion, prompted by problems elsewhere in the nation and the area, Capt. Mike McCutchan said.

“Closer to home, the shooting that happened in Madison,” he added.

In February 2016, Austin Hancock, a 14-year-old student at Madison Jr./Sr. High School, about a 40-minute drive southwest in Butler County, wounded four classmates during a shooting in the cafeteria. Hancock was sent to state detention. Lawsuits were filed.

Hancock was represented by Charlie Rittgers, a lawyer based in Lebanon and the father of two Lebanon High graduates.

A school-resource officer might help prevent extended detention of harmless students charged after making empty school threats, Rittgers said. Alternately, Rittgers said incidents previously handled internally could wind up in juvenile court when handled by the school resource officer.

“Parents want to keep their children safe. It may raise people’s comfort level,” Rittgers said. “You’re not going to prevent something like what happened in Madison.”

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Lebanon would join a growing number of area districts with a school resource officer. In Warren County, the sheriff’s office provides school resource officers in the Kings Local Schools and Warren County Career Center. Springboro and Mason have officers dedicated to the local districts.

“In addition to increasing security, we hope to foster better relationships between law enforcement and our students. We also know that police officers can serve as excellent role models for our students and can assist us in drug prevention efforts,” superintendent Todd Yohey said.

Yohey and McCutchan said there were no local incidents that prompted the move. Earlier this year three high school students involved in bringing knives to school were ordered to do community service.

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“We’re lucky that we’ve avoided any major incidents,” McCutchan said.

Local police have always responded to calls from the local schools and set up an office at the high school in 2013 to increase their visibility.

There are also offices for police in other local school buildings, but liaison officers remain available to responding to calls for service anywhere in the city.

Lebanon’s school resource officer would be focused on school safety, while on the look-out for bullying, drugs, weapons or gang activity, cases of child abuse and neglect and “student unrest.” Active-shooter awareness and diversity training would also be emphasized.

The officer would also attend after-school and summer events.

“We all agree that the timing and the opportunity is right for Lebanon,” Yohey added.

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The call for a school resource officer on the local council was primarily raised by Jim Norris and Jim Dearie, as well as Mayor Amy Brewer, McCutchan said.

“Staff has continued discussions with Lebanon School District,” City Manager Scott Brunka said in his memo to council last week in anticipation of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Included in your packet is a draft agreement, with an updated cost sharing arrangement, which has been reviewed by the School Superintendent,” Brunka added.

The contract commits the school district to $25,000 next year, $35,000 in each of the next two years and half the staff costs for the school resource officers in coming years.

“It was becoming more of a reactive, than proactive, environment,” McCutchan said.

The assigned officer will “work with the school to provide law enforcement education, maintain a peaceful campus environment and take appropriate action regarding on-campus or school-related criminal activity,” according to the contract to be discussed during a work session beginning on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at city hall in Lebanon.

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