COLUMBUS (WCMH) — As the city grapples with police reform and city schools battle the COVID-19 crisis, the contract to provide resource officers to Columbus high schools is not being renewed.
And even if in-school classes resume, there is no plan to have police back in the buildings. It’s the end of a 25-year program.
And for some schools, the loss of police officers who are also coaches and mentors.
“In 20 years of working the street, I don’t think I ever had the impact that I had on kids in the building,” said Columbus Police Officer Joe Murray, who has served as a school resource officer at Northland High School and as a coach for the school’s wrestling team.
The contract between the Columbus Police and the Columbus City School District expired on June 30, and no new contract was in place.
“Coach Murray has always been there for me during the wrestling season and outside the wrestling season, he’s checking up on me,” said junior wrestler Correy Craddolph.
Murray’s first day on the job included a stop at the school’s trophy case.
“In the 70s and early 80s, there was a ton of wrestling trophies, so as I started scanning and looking through the trophies for the rest of the decade. It all stopped,” Murray said.
He volunteered to help and eventually became the head coach, working with reluctant wrestlers like Craddolph, who tried to quit the team before becoming city champion his freshman year and runner up last year.
“He has always been supportive of everybody and make sure everybody could wrestle, so like good grades, pay attention in class, not goofing around in the hallways,” Craddolph said.
“I jokingly say all the time I don’t have a lot of skills, but the one skill that I do possess is I can talk to kids,” Murray said.
Murray said his mission as a resource officers was to build bridges and relationships.
“The police officer aspect of it for me is probably only 40 percent of it,” he said. “The 60 percent of it is me just being a human being.”
He was also an adult who was in a position to head off trouble.
“Because a kid will walk by and say hey there’s going to be so and so is going to do so and so later and you are kind of like, ‘OK, so and so is going to fight?’ We are hearing there is going to be a fight after school and we can cut that off and bring them in and mediate before it ever gets to something,” Murray said.
In all, 20 resource officers are being reassigned. Northland High, South High, and Whetstone will all lose officer who are also coaches.
“With the program not being renewed, those relationships will disappear and that, to me, is the worst part,” Murray said.
Murray is not sure where his new assignment will be, or his new schedule, but he said he hopes to be able to spend some time as a volunteer, helping whoever ends up with the job as coach.