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Dunbar parents hoping Prevention Resource Officer can stay inside school

Plans to remove a prevention resource officer from Dunbar Middle School are on hold until a presentation before city council next week from members of the school. (WCHS/WVAH)

Some parents of Dunbar Middle School students are sounding the alarm after the city voted to no longer accept a grant that puts a police officer inside the school.

For years, Dunbar City Council has accepted the grant from the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Last year, it was for $20,000 and helped fund a prevention resource officer at Dunbar Middle School. Now, that money has been reduced to $18,000 and council voted last week to not accept the money and put the officer back on the streets.

Dunbar Police Chief Jess Bailes says the city's transient and drug problem has been draining the department's resources.

"This transient problem is now causing departments to have to do away with programs that the community likes because we have to spend so much time on that problem," Bailes said.

"I was devastated just like all the rest of the parents. We couldn't understand why," Jayleah Burs said. Her 13-year-old daughter goes to the middle school. Burs says the news of potentially losing the officer isn't sitting well with parents.

"You're telling me that because of the lack of funding, our children are not your most important priority?" Burs asks.

"The community has made it clear that when you only have a certain amount of resources that they want it spent in those areas. So, we had to make the tough decision of whether or not to accept the grant," Bailes said.

Accepting the grant requires the officer to be in the school at least 36 hours a week. Bailes says this also makes it difficult with three officers on leave.

"But we are still going to have someone who is a liaison to the schools and when we are able to, we are going to send him down there to be there during the day to come up with some programs that we can do in the school," Bailes said. "Make no mistake about it, this is not a vote of us not supporting the program. We are very supportive of the program. This is merely us having to look at the availability of money, the availability of resources and making a tough decision at what the community wants as their priority."

Ray Whiting is the president of the school's parent support boosters and says the school is trying to come up with an alternative to save the position. They're planning to make a presentation before council on November 20.

"I understand the city's stance where they want to fight crime and the homeless situation but we're talking about our children," Whiting said.

"His presence has always been there at football games, basketball games and our kids, they just seem a little more safer," Burs said.

Bailes had originally planned to remove the officer from the school before Thanksgiving but says he will be holding off on that move until council hears the school's proposal.

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