Clark-Pleasant police chief responds to safety concerns

The Clark-Pleasant Police Department’s chief has responded to public concerns over school safety and officer conduct that were brought up during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

During the meeting, five community members shared concerns about safety at school buildings and about some of the seven full-time Clark-Pleasant police officers assisting in calls off campus.

One of those community members was Heather McMurray. She was concerned about safety and officers speeding around town.

“They were at an accident at Sawmill (Road) and Whiteland Road, and two officers, while our building, the north building had something, they raced 90 miles an hour from the accident to the north building. That could’ve been a really bad accident,” McMurray said. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen them in places not school related. If they’re paid to be a school police officer they need to be on school grounds.”

In 2018, voters in Clark and Pleasant townships approved a property tax-hike of 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. The money, along with increasing mental health services, funded the school district’s police department. The idea behind the department was to free the district from depending on part-time help from other department’s officers to protect schools.

Clark-Pleasant Police Chief Chad Pryce said while officers occasionally respond to incidents off campus policing at schools comes first.

“Clark-Pleasant schools is really integrated in (our) communities. Going from building to building, sometimes we come across things or an officer needs something … Part of the oath we took was serving our community and protecting people.” Pryce said. “Our main priority is students in schools, but there may be rare occasions we may need to take care of something else. We have incidents where school buses are involved in crashes off campus, sometimes someone comes across a crash or students are involved in accidents. We have welfare checks on students. We realize a lot of physical security has to do with being in buildings. At no time is our main mission compromised for anything else.”

Officers also monitor traffic near Whiteland and Worthsville roads. When officers go off campus, they are allowed to go over the speed limit in an emergency, but are instructed to never drive recklessly, he said.

The parents were concerned schools were left unprotected when officers go off campus.

Pryce said officers make sure there is at least one officer to cover the north campus, which includes Ray Crowe Elementary School, Clark-Pleasant Middle School and Grassy Creek Elementary School, along with at least one officer at the south campus, which includes Whiteland Community High School and its north building, Whiteland Elementary School, the administration building and Clark-Pleasant Academy, Pryce said.

Officers also rotate to visit outlying schools, such as Clark, Pleasant Crossing and Break-O-Day elementary schools to ensure they are able to respond quickly in case of emergency, he said.

“They are outlying buildings, but they’re not neglected buildings,” he said. “They’re split between the north and south depending on where an officer is assigned. One officer will say they’re going out to Pleasant Crossing and we’ll know they’re away from other buildings. We try and schedule and think ahead of other stuff, not stretch ourselves to compromise response times. We’re strategic on how to respond the quickest if something does happen.”

Community member Mike Steele also had concerns about secure entry, student pickup and visitor protocol.

Pryce said that is something he will review with schools in preparation for the next academic year.

“As school reconvenes in the fall, we will verify student check outs and re-verify our safety in entry,” Pryce said. “It’s part of ongoing training and reminders. We’ll make sure we’re doing everything needed to do to keep everyone safe. I wasn’t here when the referendum was passed. I do take it very seriously that tax dollars are being used to fund what we’re doing here. It’s not something we’re doing lightly. We will always be transparent and listen. I have no issues with talking with parents on how we can improve things.”