Fayetteville council rejects school resource officer proposal

Fayetteville police school resource officers Kevin Carroll and John Warren pose for a photo with Robin Copeland Yoakum’s third grade class at Vandergriff Elementary School. The students collected hot chocolate, tissues, mints, hands warmers and coffee cups to donate to the officers last winter.

Photo: Fayetteville Public Schools

The Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday rejected a resolution to authorize acceptance of a $250,000 grant that would partially fund the hiring of two school resource officers at Fayetteville Public Schools.

The council was originally split 4-4 and Mayor Lioneld Jordan voted to break the tie to accept the grant, but Council Member Sarah Marsh changed her vote, causing the resolution to fail by a vote of 3-5.

City staff said the district had requested the two new officers for their middle schools. The grant would have provided $250,000 of the $562,710 needed to fund the officers, and the city and school district would split the remaining $312,710 with the school district contributing $225,913 and the city contributing $86,797.

The resolution originally appeared on the consent agenda for the meeting, but Council Member Matthew Petty requested to move it to the regular agenda to allow for discussion of the proposal.

Petty said on Tuesday he wanted to add language to the resolution that would require a good faith effort to hire officers for the positions that are licensed in social work, cognitive therapy, or some sort of social work or counseling background, if possible.

Petty’s proposal was met with resistance by Deputy Police Chief Jamie Fields, who said hiring an officer with those qualifications would prove to be difficult.

City Attorney Kit Williams also expressed concerns about Petty’s amendment, saying the city’s Civil Service Commission, as outlined by the state, typically controlled the hiring process for police officers in the city.

The council had authorized the application for the grant by a vote of 7-0 in March.

During the discussion on Tuesday, four residents spoke against the idea of adding police officers to schools. Concerns about minority students’ experiences with police officers, adding additional guns in schools, and a preference to instead add counselors and social workers were some of the reasons given for the opposition.

Council members also expressed concerns over the role of resource officers in schools. Council Member Kyle Smith, who is a teacher in Springdale, said he has always had positive interactions with the officers at his school, but noted his experience comes as a white male adult. Smith said the experiences of minority students are different, and that he is concerned the current approach to school resource officers may not be working.

The initial vote was evenly split at 4-4 with Petty, Scroggin, Smith, and Gutierrez voting no. Mayor Jordan cast the tie-breaking vote, which would have passed the resolution.

A few minutes later, Marsh requested a motion to reconsider the decision and require a second vote.

After the second vote, the resolution failed 3-5, with only Kinion, Bunch, and Turk voting in favor.