With the school resource officer (SRO) agreements between the village of Oak Park and school districts 200 and 97 terminated back in July, the Oak Park police department has yet to give the three former SROs new permanent assignments on the force.
Once schools effectively closed their campuses last spring due to COVID-19, the officers joined the afternoon patrol watch. According to Police Chief LaDon Reynolds, the police officers who formerly served as SROs have been assigned to field service patrols, but that may not end up being their permanent placement.
“[It’s] unknown at this time. We are evaluating resource allocation,” said Reynolds.
Previously, Oak Park and River Forest High School, Percy Julian Middle School and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School each had one of the three SROs stationed there throughout the school year. In summer months, SROs would be reassigned to different police duties.
Currently, the Oak Park police department has 15 vacant positions authorized in the 2020 budget for sworn officers. Of the vacancies, the Resident Beat Officer (RBO) program has three openings. The department has one sergeant position and one neighborhood resource officer position open. The police department has a total of 121 sworn officers on the force.
“If somebody retires, it takes a while to promote somebody,” said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.
Once someone is promoted to a higher-level position in the police department, the department has to hire a replacement to take over the officer’s prior position. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the process.
“The hiring process for police officers is a lot longer,” said Pavlicek. “During COVID, most of the academies are shut down, we have not done some of the hiring we typically would do.”
The 2020 budget also contains one open SRO position. Due to the terminated agreements, that vacant SRO position is no longer needed, bringing the number of actual vacancies to 14. Having vacancies in the police department happens often, according to Pavlicek.
“We always have vacancies,” said Pavlicek. “The board has a total sworn count that they authorize the hiring of. We typically, because of retirements and stuff, aren’t filled up to that.”
Oak Park’s village board has the opportunity to reorganize the staffing chart of the police department during budget discussions for the 2021 fiscal year, which will likely begin in November.
“I think the conversation for the board is whether or not you stay at the total of [full-time equivalent employees] as authorized in the budget,” said Pavlicek.