‘Worth their weight in gold’: Clark, Champaign schools complete first year with resource officers

Deputy John Loney, the school resource officer for the Tecumseh School Destrict, provides a caring ear along with lunch for two students going through a stressful time at home Thursday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Deputy John Loney, Tecumseh Local School’s School Resource Officer, doesn’t work a normal nine to five schedule- sometimes he stays late for Friday night football games or gets an early morning call like the one that sent him to a scene at 4 a.m. Thursday.

Loney would not say during an interview about his role as a school resource officer what that early morning call was about.

But later Thursday morning, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of two teen girls in connection to the stabbing of two people, including one fatally in New Carlisle.

Also, Tecumseh’s Superintendent said Thursday afternoon that the teens are students within the district and that Loney is working as a liaison between the sheriff’s office and the school.

Loney’s hectic schedule illustrates the range of responsibilities Clark County school resource officers have faced their first year in the role.

May marks the end of the first school year that four Clark county school districts welcomed school resource officers into their hallways.

Northwestern, Clark Shawnee, Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center and Tecumseh Local Schools all had Clark County Sheriff’s deputies on staff for the 2018-2019 school year.

Splitting the cost

MORE: Why more Clark County schools are adding sheriff's deputies in their buildings

A school resource officer is a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by a local law enforcement agency to work with one or more schools, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Clark County Commissioner Richard Lohnes pushed to bring resource officers into the schools following the 2013 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. The shooting left 28 people dead, including 20 children and the gunman.

“We obviously want to do everything we can to assist school districts,” Lohnes said. “We want to make sure our students feel safe in the classroom.”

Lohnes said he reached out to school districts across the county to see who would be interested in splitting the cost of resource officers.

As a result, four Clark County district’s were able to reach a deal with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, allowing the schools to have their own deputies.

The start-up cost for all four officers came out to be around $200,000, Lohnes said, although he anticipates that number coming down next year.

“We had some start-up costs on things like computers, radios, stuff like that,” Lohnes said.

Each officer roughly costs $50,000 and the cost is split between Clark County and the individual districts.

Vital resource

MORE: Clark County schools work to keep students safe in the classroom

Tecumseh Local Schools Superintendent Paula Crew was one of the first superintendents to say she wanted her district to to take part in the agreement with Clark County in May of last year.

Before the 2018-2019 school year, there was a program in Clark County where deputies would float between all Clark County schools. Crew said during this period of time, if the district had an emergency their only option was to just call 911.

“Just like anyone else would do,” Crew said.

Crew said there has been an “amazing change” since bringing on a resource officer.

“Students look up to him as a role model,” Crew said of Loney. “It’s more than just having him there for protection, it’s so much more.”

Loney said he sometimes shows up on calls that the sheriff’s department is dispatched too if he knows students are going to be there.

“We had a call about a domestic dispute. When we showed up I knew the little boy involved. So here is this kid that has just witnessed his parents fighting, putting hands on each other, but because I show up, it isn’t about that anymore,” Loney said. “Now it’s playing with race cars. Now it’s about getting to tell friends, ‘Officer Loney came to see my house.’”

Aside from the obvious positive impact he has on students, Crew said, Loney was a vital resource during an incident earlier this month, when two 14-year-old boys were taken into custody after a school bus driver saw them walking down Whaley Road, in the direction of Tecumseh High School, with a loaded firearm and ammunition. Loney was able to quickly identify the boys on scene when police located them.

Loney was also able to identify a Tecumseh High School student’s car that was involved in damaging the football field at Raynor Park.

“I had recognized the car and I was able to go over to the student’s house, where we located the car, still covered in mud,” Loney said. “And he confessed to me then that he was the one who did it.”

Northwestern Local Schools superintendent Jesse Steiner also credited their school resource officer with helping to resolve a threat in early April.

A Northwestern student was talking online with a teenager in Florida when the Northwestern student began to make threats directed at another Northwestern student.

“That’s when the person in Florida began to get worried and contacted their local police who were able to get into contact with the Clark County Sheriff’s Department,” Steiner said previously.

Because Northwestern had a resource officer that works within the sheriff’s department, they were able to quickly identify the student, who the officer was familiar with, and resolve the threat, Steiner said.

Urbana City Schools

MORE: West Liberty-Salem school shooter appeals for new sentence

In Champaign County, Urbana City Schools also had a new resource officer present for the 2018-2019 school year after reaching an agreement with the Urbana Police Division.

The Urbana school board approved an agreement in late July of last year for a 175-day contract with the Urbana Police Division.

One of reasons the board decided to bring an officer into the school was an incident that occurred at West-Liberty Salem Jr./Sr. High School less than 10 miles down the road. West-Liberty Salem was the scene of a shooting that left one person injured in 2017.

The shooter, 17-year-old Ely Serna, was sentence to 23 1/2 years in person- the maximum sentence-in May 2018 after he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, felonious assault and inducing panic.

In February, Serna’s attorney’s filed an appeal with Champaign County Common Pleas Court to consider vacating Serna’s sentence and to order a new hearing. The state has not responded to the appeal.

“The situation with West Liberty was a huge driver for our board. Before that, they had asked about a resource office but they really communicated with me and got after me [after the incident],” Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said previously.

Thiel said having a resource officer in the school this year went over, “really well.”

“Having the officer in the school has been a positive,” Thiel said. “We are planning to have one again next year.”

All school districts in Clark County are also expected to have their officers return for the 2019-2020 school year, Lohnes said Clark County and the school districts are currently working on the details of a long-term agreement.

Crew said her district will keep doing whatever they have to to keep Loney in their schools, whatever the cost may be.

“They are worth their weight in gold,” Crew said. “I can’t explain enough how thankful we are to have him.”

4: Schools within Clark County that have school resource officers

$200,000: The combined cost, roughly, of 4 school resource officers

$50,000: The cost of one school resource officer for Clark County

1: School in Urbana that has a school resource officer

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering schools safety, including the implementation of new safety features in Clark and Champaign county schools.