City wants schools to help pay for gang-resistance program

jwise@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2014 

— City officials want Durham Public Schools to pick up some – if not all – of the cost of having the Police Department’s Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program in elementary schools.

They also want to see what city taxpayers are getting for their money.

“I see the value in the program,” City Councilwoman Diane Catotti said, “but I firmly believe it is something the county or the school system should be paying.”

Five GREAT officers work in 17 elementary schools, teaching children how to resist joining a gang and the peer pressure involved. Police Chief Jose L. Lopez said the officers also provide mentoring, coordinate summer camps and provide police visibility in schools.

“Kids gravitate to them,” he said.

“We asked Durham Public Schools to partner with us to share the cost of the GREAT program in elementary schools, which would be about $200,000,” City Manager Tom Bonfield told the council, “and to date they have declined to do that.”

City officials have raised the issue previously with DPS, and Catotti wants the city to stop subsidizing the program altogether.

“We have very restricted resources for a number of things, and I think we should rededicate the funding in the elementary schools,” she said.

“We’ve asked nicely, we’ve warn for years, I think we just need to do it.”

Councilman Eugene Brown wanted to know whether the program works.

“Where is the performance data?” Brown said. “I would think (DPS) would have come back with an evaluation and if they thought it was that important they should share part of the cost.

“I think that’s a common-sensible approach,” he said.

Other council members and Mayor Bill Bell hesitated to cut the program off right away.

“I think we should cut $200,000 out of the budget for these (officers),” Councilman Steve Schewel said, and pointed out that Durham County is reimbursed for sheriff’s deputies acting as School Resource Officers, who perform similar functions as GREAT officers.

“We ought to be similarly reimbursed,” Schewel said.

Reducing or cancelling GREAT funding would allow police to reassign the officers and free the money for other police uses,

“We always have needs in the police department,” Catotti said.

“It troubles me, the message we send,” Bell said. “We’re supposed to be about getting to young people. ... I’d be more comfortable funding (this year) and telling the school system to either quantify results or we’ll cut it off next year.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable cutting it this year without some definite plan for how we’re going to use the money instead of just saying the police department can use it,” the mayor said.

The council made no decision, but reserved the GREAT program for more discussion before approving a 2014-15 budget later this month.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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