Grant funds full-time officer in Harper Woods Schools

Program hailed as indicative of strong school and city relationship

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published November 6, 2013


HARPER WOODS — Both city and school officials believe that a school liaison officer has a positive impact on students, the schools and the community, which is why a recent grant announcement is a big win for the city and schools.

Harper Woods was one of seven departments in the state to be awarded grants through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office and one of slightly more than 140 departments in the nation. Not only that, but the grants were capped at $125,000 with an option for additional money for those who qualified, and the city managed to snag more funding over the cap for its program.

“We were very fortunate and grateful to be one of those seven,” Public Safety Director James Burke said. “It worked out really well for us.

“Agencies could apply for extra funding based on their financial situation but were cautioned against doing so, as only a limited number of agencies would receive extra funds due to high nationwide demand for this additional funding,” Burke explained in a letter about the grant.

When applying, Burke said he felt the city met the qualifications for the added funds on top of the main grant.

Ultimately, Harper Woods not only received the grant but was awarded the additional funding for a total of $174,972 during the three-year grant period through the School Based Policing through School Resource Officers Program.

City Council unanimously approved accepting the grant at its Oct. 21 meeting.

Harper Woods Schools agreed to provide the required $60,000 in matching funds over the three years, or $20,000 a year. In all, $234,972 will support the program.

“It shows that there’s an excellent city-school district partnership,” Mayor Ken Poynter said of the grant.

Burke agreed.

“The partnership we have with the district is excellent,” he said. “It’s a win-win.

“It’s going to pay big benefits to everyone in our community,” Burke said.

The city and schools know how beneficial a full-time school liaison officer is, because they have experience with the program.

The city had a police liaison officer for years but couldn’t staff the position following the economic downturn when the Police Department significantly cut manpower.

“That had been a very effective program that we had previously,” Burke said.

It’s important for police to maintain a positive relationship with the city’s young people, Burke explained. These types of programs help give youth a positive view of law enforcement and help steer them away from negative activity.

“There’s a lot of gang activity outside of our community that these kids can be pulled into,” Burke said, adding that having a police liaison officer working with teens can help deter young people from getting involved in dangerous activity.

Even when the city previously had an officer slated to work in the schools, the officer was funded through a partnership between the city and schools.

When approached this time, the schools were once again on board.

“The grant request that was initiated by the city and supported by the district has enabled this position to be reinstated for, at minimum, a three-year period at a cost level that is affordable for both organizations,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said in an email.  “As a result, a valuable resource has returned to our schools. Fundamentally, this position is intended to be a proactive role.”

“Detective (Charles) Walker, by building relationships with our students and by being a role model and a confidant, will assist our students in making good decisions and in working to de-escalate issues that may arise before they reach a level that negatively impacts the school culture or that warrants official police intervention,” Biederwolf said in the email. “The main goal is to prevent concerns that might interrupt the learning environment from arising.”     

Biederwolf outlined some of the work the liaison officer will do in the schools.

“A police liaison will also take the lead role in both responding and coordinating resources, should a significant security issue be identified,” he said in the email. “As a result, we expect to see fewer concerns occurring and a more effective response to any issues that do arise.

“Our liaison will serve each of our campuses and the district as a whole in grades K-12,” he said.

Burke commended the city’s relationship with Harper Woods Schools.

The full-time position will be housed in Harper Woods Schools, but the department plans to have some other officers spend some time working with the other schools in the city.