MANKATO — Students will notice an increased police presence in Mankato schools when they return to classes this fall.
Director of Public Safety Todd Miller announced Wednesday he is making a budget shift that will allow him to hire a new patrol officer, then move an existing officer into a new police liaison position.
The new position will be funded by restructuring the budget used to pay employees who are not licensed police officers.
The department already has one school liaison officer, Tom Rother, who has been stretched thin by increasing calls for service at the city’s schools. There were nearly 300 of those calls during the past school year, Miller said. Rother will likely be moved to a new position where he will work both as a liaison officer and as a detective who handles juvenile cases.
“Our calls for service in the schools have increased and we’re hoping this will address that,” Miller said. “We hope to have the officer assigned by the start of school.”
Although the assignment will be announced, it will likely take longer before full-time liaison work can start because the new patrol officer will need to be hired and trained first, Miller added.
At one point several years ago, Mankato had four liaison officers working in the city’s schools. That was cut to one officer per high school, then later cut to one officer for the entire district in 2009 because of cuts to Local Government Aid. Rother’s current position is paid for by the school district.
Since being cut to one officer, the school district has been looking at ways to hire another officer through grants or other funding sources, said Sheri Blasing, West High School assistant principal. They have not been successful.
“We’ve been asking for this for awhile,” Blasing said. “Having a liaison officer here is such a proactive approach. Students get to know a police officer before they get into trouble. They learn that the officers are really here to protect and serve.”