By Andy Bell-Baltaci | Daily Journal
For The Republic
EDINBURGH — Toward the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, Edinburgh schools joined the county’s other five school districts, hiring a police officer to patrol its buildings full-time.
Within nine months, the program dissolved.
Funding became an issue, and Michael Nunez, the officer who was manning the schools, was taken off the assignment following an incident last spring. He has since been fired from the Edinburgh Police Department after he was arrested and charged with two counts of felony child molestation.
Nunez hadn’t worked as a school resource officer since June, when the Edinburgh Town Council pulled Nunez from the school after he accidentally shot his wife in April. He was not arrested or disciplined by the police department.
Investigators interviewed several witnesses and determined Nunez, who had three years of experience, did not know there was a round in the chamber while he was cleaning his gun.
Nunez was never an Edinburgh Community Schools employee, a key difference compared to other school districts. The officer, fully under contract with the police department, was assigned to the schools through an agreement between Edinburgh police and Edinburgh schools.
Although the school district was short on funds, the Town of Edinburgh agreed for one year to pay the matching part of an Indiana Department of Homeland Security Secured School Safety grant. The grant provided $30,000, including $5,000 for training, and the town chipped in $25,000.
Nunez was the first and only SRO at Edinburgh schools. He patrolled school hallways for about six months and hadn’t been in school buildings physically since March, when schools closed their doors to in-person learning as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Indiana, school officials said.
The town reached a mutual agreement with the school district to not continue the SRO program. School officials looked at other ways they could spend the money if they get their hands on this year’s homeland security grant, said Dustin Huddleston, the town’s attorney.
“It was a one-year agreement that was not renewed, as the schools were going to pursue other opportunities, whether it’s an SRO from another department, security cameras or other means to provide security,” Huddleston said. “We fully funded our obligation on the (SRO) program. We actually paid for the full part of the officer’s salary and there was no discussion of funding it further.”
It is unclear how many security cameras Edinburgh schools would be able to buy if it gets additional grant money, Arnold said.
Now, with the focus shifting away from the idea of a sustained SRO program, having an officer in that position will be missed, Arnold said.
“The SRO program, in my experience and from what I’ve read, works best with one person. That person comes in on a daily basis and knows the staff members, the teachers, students and parents, and becomes a resource for the community. With two or three officers rotating now in the morning and afternoon, it’s not the same familiarity,” Arnold said.
“(Having another) SRO is something we would have to discuss down the line. We would have to find a way we could afford to do that. The match part is difficult. The primary reason we pursued the program and the grant was the town was willing and able to help with that. I think finances became a problem.”
Town officials would not say whether there were funding issues that contributed to the SRO program not being renewed, but Huddleston said there have been no discussions about funding it further.