The Town of Brighton has been at the center of a social media firestorm for the last several weeks after it lost all of its school resource officers, then its police chief.
Mayor Stephanie Chapman Washam said much of the controversy is a misunderstanding. The rest can be attributed to leadership.
This summer the school district approved a total $650,000 in funding for SROs at every school, which means the law enforcement agencies would receive $50,000 per officer as well as a car for each high school SRO.
There’s been speculation Brighton wasn’t paying its SROs enough and that the excess funds were being used elsewhere. Washam said that’s not the case.
Lower tax revenue means lower pay
Brighton doesn’t bring in the tax revenue its neighbors do, so funding its public safety departments can be more difficult.
A small department doesn’t usually have many officers to spare. Brighton has six officers and having three dedicated to school services only during the school day makes things even more stretched than they already are.
Their SROs – because they don’t have as much to contribute over the school board’s $50,000 contribution to cover salary and benefits – will naturally earn less than those in other Tipton County towns.
“When it was brought to us that was one of the issues with the aldermen,” Washam said. “This year it went to $50,000, last year it was $35,000. We have Atoka kids going there, we have Mason and all of Brighton. We don’t
have the revenue coming in that the other cities do, so how are we going to make up that difference and not go over? Nobody at the board was against protecting the schools, it was just how are we going to take the taxpayers’ money and put it on top of that?”
But there’s no missing money, Washam said.
“The thing that’s the biggest misconception is we were not given $150,000. They will reimburse you $50,000 per school, so we get monthly payments of $4,166.66. And if we don’t have anyone at the school we don’t get the money, so we’re not pocketing any money. We haven’t got any.”
Washam said the payments are retroactive and they haven’t received one yet due to the circumstances regarding the length of the SROs’ employment.
Brighton has employed four SROs this school year and each has quit, one of those before completing the certification process needed before being permitted to work as an officer. The other three, said Washam, cited leadership issues.
While some officers were working overtime, which went unpaid in lieu of comp time, to cover schools others were coming in on their days off to make sure the schools were protected.
The officers, during exit interviews, also told the mayor they were being pulled from the schools to cover incidents in the city. That left students, teachers, and staff vulnerable.
Terminating the chief
During a special called meeting last week, the board fired longtime police chief Mike Durham. He’d served as the city’s chief law enforcement officer for 13 years.
In addition to the complaints made by the officers who’d left, the board had its own concerns about the chief’s day-to-day activities amongst other things.
He didn’t participate in activities like the local drug task force, the chiefs association, multi-jurisdictional law enforcement operations, and more.
“Brighton is the only one who’s not ever there,” Washam said.
Recently he was supposed to be conducting traffic during dismissal but left his post to pick his granddaughter up from school. When he was told citizens were concerned about police protection, he reportedly told the board during an open meeting that it was their problem and not his.
“He brought up that the things we were telling him to do were not his job. We had just asked him to step up and do the traffic (while the department was short-staffed). He told us other chiefs were not working chiefs. As part of being a leader you have to step up.”
He was terminated on Nov. 14.
Since his termination, Washam said, at least one of the city’s prior SROs will return.
SROs fully staffed
“Of the ones that left, one is coming back for sure. The other two said it was possible, but they just left …”
Beginning on Dec. 5, the schools will each have SROs again.
They’ll have two officers start on Nov. 28 and another previous SRO will begin on Dec. 5.
Captain Scott Dodge is currently the interim chief until the position is filled.
The town will begin the hiring process in the coming weeks.