By Sterling McGinn
Recent concerns regarding vandalism, vaping and other illegal activities within the school district has warranted some type of law enforcement presence within the hallways.
The new Tahquamenon Area Schools (TAS) and Luce County Sheriff’s Department resource officer position will begin this week following the approval by the school board of education at their last regular meeting.
Though the resource officer is not there to discipline students, a sheriff’s deputy will walk the school halls and handle criminal matters if and when they take place. “We are going to be there to try and get it so the kids can learn and help the school out,” Luce County Sheriff Eric Gravelle said.
TAS Superintendent Stacy Price worked to secure an approximately $61,000 grant for this position, which needs to be used by September 30, 2024.
“A couple of months ago, Stacy Price approached us about the possibility of getting a student resource officer,” Gravelle said. “We didn’t have the budget for it—we talked a little bit and I advised her that I would help her with the training and getting uniforms, because she was looking for some funding.”
Price was able to secure that funding for an officer through Michigan Section 97 flat grant, which provides money for school security. If necessary, additional funds can also come from 31aa, which provides per-pupil funding.
Several months ago, TAS sent out a community survey to gather input on the areas the district should use 31aa funding in.
“The grant survey results also indicated that people were interested in having a person in the school assisting with safety,” said Price.
When Gravelle received his 2024 budget from the county commissioners, he found his deputy budget was cut back.
“Our deputy budget was cut back quite a bit—my undersheriff got cut back about 10 hours,” said Gravelle. He then figured with the cut in hours, having some of his personnel working as resource officers could help the district.
“We are at the school quite a bit because of issues,” he said.
Gravelle and the school were able to finalize a resolution for the program last week. Deputy Zachariah Kitzman will be at TAS two days per week and every other week, Undersheriff Mike Peters will work a day at the school. The officers will be paid for their time through the grant funds.
“They are going to be doing law enforcement stuff there—they are not acting under the authority of the school—we are going to be police officers,” Gravelle said. “We not getting involved with school policies or rules or anything like that. We might stand by and watch…they might be a good witness, but they are not going to get involved.”
“The recent smashing of a toilet that flooded the school—that is a criminal matter, and we will handle that,” said Gravelle. “If my deputies witness fights in the hallway, obviously that is an assault, they are going to handle that.”
The resource officers will also handle truancy, which ultimately will be taken care of by the prosecutor.
Sheriff Gravelle wants parents and the community to know that the resource officers will not be putting hands on the students unless it is warranted.
“We have an obligation and a duty and a right to put our hands on somebody if we need to protect ourselves, the property of someone else, or the person themselves who are acting out,” he explained.
He noted that students fighting and trying to hurt each other may be pulled back by the officers to stop them.
“The kids won’t be put into handcuffs for no reason,” Gravelle said. “If they have a weapon or they are trying to hit somebody with something, they will probably be handcuffed… By law we can do that…It’s for protective purposes.”
Gravelle said he also wants the resource officers to hold presentations in some of the classrooms, especially in the elementary, where they can talk to students about being a police officer. “I really want that—I think it would be fun and very informative as well,” he said.
“There will be a learning curve for all of us, but the sheriff’s office and myself all agree that this is a good thing for the district as well as our community,” Price said.