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Claremont police announce new school resource officer

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

On Monday the Claremont Police Department announced it had selected Brittany Sornborger to be the city’s next school resource officer.

The school resource officer (SRO) is a unique position in the department because it is funded by both the city and Claremont Unified School District. The SRO handles most calls for service at Claremont’s public school campuses as well as related duties including attending afterschool events such as football games.

“The SRO position is a special assignment within the Police Department, requiring specialized training. Through an interview process, the Claremont Police Department and school district representatives select a new officer every five years to serve in the SRO capacity. The Claremont Police Department and Claremont Unified School District have partnered to provide this valuable resource to the school community for almost 20 years,” Lieutenant Karlan Bennett said in a news release.

Sornborger was a police officer in Irvine for four years before being hired by CPD as a part-time detective in 2014. She became a full-time Claremont police officer in July of 2019.

“Over the last two-and-a-half years, officer Sornborger has demonstrated the qualities and character needed to handle incidents competently and compassionately. Her main focus as she takes on her new role will be to develop strong connections with students and staff and become a trusted presence on campus,” Lieutenant Bennett said.

Sornborger replaces officer Jennifer Ganino, whose five-year SRO assignment has come to an end.

“Officer Ganino has served with distinction, expanding the police department’s explorer program and receiving numerous letters of commendations for her work. In 2016, officer Ganino was awarded the city’s Employee of the Year for her dedicated and exemplary service to the community,” Lieutenant Bennett said.

During her time as the SRO, Ganino participated in school violence and mental health awareness symposiums, conducted presentations on anti-bullying, internet safety, teen vaping, active shooter, parent safety (with a focus on crime trends) and personal safety meetings at churches and schools, according to the news release.

Due to staffing shortages, the current school year began without an SRO, during which time patrol officers responded to calls for service at Claremont’s schools.

Sornborger takes over as SRO during an interesting time — in July the Claremont City Council voted to “reimagine” school safety in Claremont. A working group of interested parties including students from the middle and two public high schools, police representatives, city and school officials, parents, and community leaders will make recommendations on the future of policing on campus, which may result in the elimination of the SRO position.

In the summer of 2020 the Claremont Police Commission formed a school resource officer ad hoc committee which was tasked with evaluating the program which funds the armed uniformed officer. The committee recommended the program sunset on June 30, 2022 at which time the “reimagined” school safety measures would be set in place. However, the police commission and ultimately the city council set some limitations to the elimination of the SRO position after Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen expressed concerns about the impact it might have on staffing.

“Effective June 30, 2022, provided that funding is available to ensure no loss of coverage, staff or police officer positions, that the city re-designate the school resource officer to a lateral designation within the police department with a secondary assignment to the Claremont Unified School District to respond to student/school related calls, pending the completion of the redesign of school safety and well being programs by the representative working group,” read the recommendation as passed in July.

Current and former Claremont High School students led the charge to eliminate the SRO, maintaining that the presence of an armed officer on campus was a detriment to learning, particularly for students of color. In addition, testimony from the SRO ad hoc committee questioned the effectiveness of the program.

Chief Vander Veen’s primary concern was that removing the SRO would necessitate calling a patrol officer off their regular beat to respond to calls on campus, which would reduce police coverage around town. She asked the council to assure her that if the SRO was eliminated that the chief be given the funding to add one more patrol officer. The issue of funding centers on the 50% of the SRO’ salary paid by CUSD.

The COURIER will update its readers about the working group’s finding as soon as its made public.

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