Adding a third officer and a police dog has enabled the Center Grove Police Department to spend more time walking around schools, talking with students, stopping fights and looking for drugs, school officials said.
During the 2013-14 school year, Center Grove’s three officers responded to nearly 400 calls and made 37 arrests. That’s up from 27 arrests and 145 calls two years ago, according to data the police department presented to the school board last month.
Center Grove, which has about 7,780 students this fall, is the only Johnson County school district with its own police department. The school district’s police department has grown since it was created in 2008. One reason for the jump in the number of calls is the police department started having calls sent through Johnson County dispatch. Previously, the police department manually logged all of the calls received, Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.
Because the calls are now run through the county, officers can quickly document instances when they’re called to meet or talk with a student. These meetings weren’t necessarily recorded when officers had to manually log the calls, Center Grove Police Chief Ray Jackson told the board last month.
As the department has grown, officers are spending more time in schools, talking more with students about any safety concerns they have. They can respond more quickly if a fight happens and can conduct regular searches for drugs or other illegal substances. Before the police department was created, those tasks fell to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
Center Grove added a third officer to the police department in 2013, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The department also purchased Duxo, a police dog, last summer so the school district could regularly conduct searches for drugs.
Jackson has said that he doesn’t believe Center Grove has a drug problem but that he wants officers and Duxo regularly searching buildings and talking with students to keep drugs away from the schools.
Last year, Duxo was used to conduct 43 searches of Center Grove buildings, and 16 of the arrests made last school year were drug- or alcohol-related. Those included two arrests for illegal possession of alcohol, a total of six arrests for public intoxication and possession of marijuana and eight arrests for possession of a narcotic or controlled substance, according to data from the police department.
At the middle and high schools, students are less likely to have or use drugs at school if they know there’s a chance police could conduct a search with the dog, Jackson has said.
Having Duxo also serves as an icebreaker with students, especially in the elementary schools. When children see the dog, the officers can explain what he does and why it’s important for them to stay away from drugs, Arkanoff said.
Center Grove officials and the police department want to continue to learn about the best ways to keep drugs away from students, Arkanoff said. Last week Center Grove officials attended a community forum about the dangers of synthetic drugs. The forum was scheduled after Center Grove High School student Samuel Motsay died in May after taking a new synthetic drug, 25i-NBOMe, or N-Bomb.
Arkanoff wants the officers to continue patrolling the schools and talking regularly with students and parents about drugs’ dangers.
“It’s a team effort,” Arkanoff said. “We want to try and get information out to parents so they’re informed.”
Center Grove’s three police officers typically start and end their days directing traffic throughout the school district. Officers have a chance to speak with parents then and on the weekends during sporting and other events.
As the officers get to know parents and families better, they will be able to talk more about drugs, changes in laws and how students can stay safe and out of trouble, Arkanoff said.
“We’re just making a more conscious effort to communicate with our parents about having more conversations with their kids about types of activities that will get them in trouble,” Arkanoff said.