The Alexandria City Council formally approved City Manager Mark Jinks’ proposed $770.7 million operating budget for 2022, which eliminates funding for School Resource Officers in Alexandria City Public Schools.
Council voted 4-3 to approve Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s controversial proposal to reallocate $789,909 for SRO funding to add mental health resources to ACPS, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, and hire an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the Alexandria Crisis Intervention program.
The decision comes after months of debate, including a recommendation to Council by ACPS to maintain the program.
“We respect the City Council’s decision and will be working with our team to continue to maintain a safe and secure environment for students and staff,” said ACPS spokeswoman Julia Burgos in a statement.
The Alexandria SRO program was launched in response to the 1994 federal crime bill established under President Bill Clinton.
John Porter, who was principal of T.C. Williams High School at that time, condemned the decision by City Council to eliminate the SRO program.
“Disappointed doesn’t accurately describe my feelings regarding your decision to defund the School Resource Officers program,” said Porter in an email following the May 5 vote. “I believe you have made a major mistake in relation to the safety/security of students and staff as well as having taken a major step backwards in advancing police-community relations.”
Seifeldein maintained that the removal of SROs from ACPS schools is the best decision for Alexandria students.
“Restorative solutions such as funding mental health programs will produce positive outcomes for our children,” Seifeldein said in a statement. “We hope to send a clear message to the parents of the children in our community that we are serious about dealing with the myriad of social, psychological and emotional issues their children face through the prioritization of adequate mental health programs.”
In addition to Seifeldein, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre voted in favor of removing the six SROs currently assigned to T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.
ACPS Vice Chair Veronica Nolan was disappointed in the decision to eliminate the SRO program.
“Our partnership with APD has long been established as a tool that promoted school safety, student support services, mentorship and was a successful deterrent to discipline situations,” Nolan said in a statement. “Council has made a decision that frankly their backgrounds don’t qualify them to understand the ramifications of their actions.”
According to Police Chief Michael Brown, SROs undergo special 40-hour training through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to learn how to respond to school shootings and interact with students in distress. The current SROs will be reassigned within the department.
The SRO program is funded through the police department’s budget, leaving ACPS, with an enrollment of 16,000 students, unable to reallocate resources to maintain the program.
Porter, in challenging Council’s decision, questioned the continuation of a police presence at City Hall.
“I expect you will now be discontinuing the presence of police officers at City Council and other city meetings,” said Porter in his email to Council. “If such presence is not needed for those attending and working in our schools, it certainly can’t be warranted for Council and those who attend city meetings.”