Price of Protection: Which school pays the highest cost per resource officer in the Tri-State

Mason City Schools’ contract features the highest cost per officer compared to districts that do not even pay a dime.
Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT
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MASON, Ohio (WXIX) - School resource officers can be found in school districts across the Tri-State, but how many pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them? Mason City Schools’ contract features the highest cost per officer compared to districts that do not even pay a dime.

FOX19 NOW Investigates found that Mason City Schools pays $650,000 per year into a campus safety program, according to their memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The City of Mason uses the term campus safety officer instead of student resource officer after they made an agreement with the school district to have a different model of safety for their children.

“... [I]t’s not a transactional thing. It is a district. It is a relationship. It is a whole different concept than a school resource officer,” City Manager Eric Hansen said.

The district consists of more than just Mason’s school buildings.

It also includes Mason Municipal Buildings, the court, a park, the pool the city-run community center and several other places.

RELATED: Price of Protection: A look at Tri-State schools’ safety budgets

In 2018, the estimated cost of policing those areas was $1.5 million with the school district contributing $650,000 to that.

“We were not aware, and I’m still not exactly aware, of any districts that have that same model where you have a full police division dedicated to your schools that is actually employed by the city,” Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper said.

When talking about the program, Mason boasts a mentoring program they have for the kids and the program’s ability to reach students after school hours.

Their approach sends safety officers beyond the school’s front doors and into the community center, where kids may be playing games or hanging out after the final bell.

“Our benefit has been [seeing students go] up to one of our resource officers because they have a relationship with them, and say, ‘Hey, I just received this TikTok,’ or ‘I just received this message from a friend that’s not doing well.’ I don’t want to front them out,’” Mason Police Captain Jeremy Saylor explained.

Better relationships with students can have benefits beyond keeping the schools safe, and Mason is not the only department that buys into that philosophy. The only difference is when places like Fort Thomas buy-in, it is not costing the school district.

“When we do have cases involving students or students’ families, that SRO is very familiar with the student, they get to know the students,” Fort Thomas City Manager said. “It really helps with investigations when we have missing children, when we have runaways, even domestics, that SRO is contacted a lot so we can kind of understand the family dynamics and really help the family and help the student a lot better.”

Who else in Mason’s coverage area is buying in?

“... [I]n our language, the general fund that pays for police also pays for the parks - the city is investing heavily in the campus safety program,” Hansen said. “The schools then buy into it, so we’re able to expand it. The campus safety program is not just a school safety program it exists for the whole campus. The schools are, well, are our No. 1 customer.”

FOX19 is told that private businesses buy into the campus safety program with their rent.

Kings Island, for example, absorbs the estimated cost of $100,000 for additional staffing by police officers due to a partnership with Mason, the city said.

In the 2021 agreement between Kings Island and Mason, the amusement park agreed to pay the cost of two full-time officers - the city’s price tag for that is $128,000 per officer.

The city manager says it is a good deal for the city because the park is not using all the hours of service Kings Island is paying for. However, it is worth noting a private business is not seeing an equipment charge that the public school district is.

Why is there no equipment charge for a vehicle for private businesses?

“... [W]e had a similar conversation with Kings Island at the time, and not unlike the schools, we’re going to roll that into the cost,” Hansen explained. “Now, at Kings Island, we increase that cost each year where we haven’t for the schools. There’s an inflationary amount that goes up each year, so we don’t, we don’t feel bad about that arrangement, I’ll put it that way.”

Mason’s contract is now five years old, and the resources they are allocating far exceed the terms of the contract. They tell us eight officers work campus safety and they use the help of four civilian employees.

Would charging an hourly rate make more sense for the schools and the city?

“That would defeat the purpose of the program,” Hansen said. “They’re buying into a district. Some of these kids that may be struggling or having conflicts come over to the community center, go over to the parks, some of them end up in court, some of them may be having trouble at home that other officers are dealing with so they know that they may be struggling with the school day. It’s that communication that goes on outside of school hours, and that district really allows you to have kind of a consistent conduit throughout the community.”

Within those five years the agreement has been in place, Mason City Schools says they have not compared their cost to neighboring districts, nor have they investigated the cost savings of using an agency like the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, which charges Kings Local Schools 62.5% of the total cost of each deputy.

“We have opened conversations with the city to look specifically at the contract and say, ‘What are things that we’ve learned from’ and ‘How can we be even more intentional about some of the integration that we have?’” Cooper said.

Both the city and schools in Mason were clear that they have a good working relationship.

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