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Leesburg Council Balks At Funding For Douglass School Resource Officer

© Leesburg Today - 10/28/2015

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors last week voted to pay most of the cost of assigning a Leesburg police officer to the Douglass School in Leesburg beginning in January, but the Town Council isn't sure town taxpayers should contribute the rest.

School resource officer positions at the middle and high schools within Leesburg's boundaries are filled by town police officers rather than by Loudoun sheriff's deputies, with the county paying for 70 percent of the costs for the service and the town covering 30 percent.

The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to postpone a decision on whether the town would kick in 30 percent of the costs associated with the officer at Douglass, the county's alternative school for students who have been removed from their home high schools. Mayor Kristen Umstattd, Vice Mayor Kelly Burk and Councilman Marty Martinez voted against the delay.

""Once again here's Leesburg paying more than our fair share for a county function,"" Councilman Tom Dunn said.

Dunn and a few other members would like to see the county pick up 100 percent of the tab-approximately $88,000 per year-for the resource officer. The council majority agreed to send a letter to county supervisors asking it if they would be willing pay the whole cost of posting a Leesburg officer there or let the Sheriff's Office handle it.

""Douglass is a unique situation,"" Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler said. ""It makes sense for a Loudoun sheriff to be the [school resource officer] at Douglass because Loudoun kids are there. I would ask council to really make a stand here.""

Currently, the resource officer at Heritage High pulls double duty by going to Douglass when needed. Leesburg Police Capt. Vanessa L. Grigsby said that officer has received a number of calls to report to Douglass over the past year and that the department prefers to have a Leesburg officer at Douglass rather than a Loudoun sheriff.

""Our officers are much closer to the community than sheriff's deputies,"" Umstattd said. ""They can investigate acts of juvenile crime in an area often discussed in school and it's easier to solve crime inside the town.""

Martinez said he's worried that if the council doesn't support the funding, then the county ""may not choose to do this.""

""We have a need. We have children. We have them at risk in that school,"" he said. ""I don't care if they're not from Leesburg, public safety is a big issue here. If we want to push the county, let's do it at budget time.""

Douglass School houses the county's alternative programs for secondary students who aren't succeeding in the traditional classroom setting, who are facing suspension or who have violated drug policies.

Douglass School Principal Dr. John Robinson said the school, which sees about 500 students come through per year, has been working to get a full-time resource officer for more than six years. He said the officer would be beneficial for several reasons.

""I have some concerns with people cutting through the property all the time, people come to the park at the school, and people who aren't in school come in to use the restrooms,"" Robinson said.

He also said last spring five students overdosed on ""Triple C,"" an addictive over-the-counter cold medicine. He hopes having an officer on site would help address those concerns and wants to see the project move forward as soon as possible.

Many council members said they would prefer having a Leesburg officer at the school, but want to wait to hear the Board of Supervisors' response to the council's letter.

""If a Loudoun sheriff is doing it, it would be a disadvantage for Leesburg Police,"" Vice Mayor Kelly Burk said.

The council will revisit the matter at a Nov. 24 meeting.

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