It’s Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and Sgt. Jason DeHerrera is on patrol.
Not in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Sandy or Midvale, but rather on campus at a Granite School District Elementary School. In fact DeHerrera, a certified police officer in the state of Utah, will likely never work a case outside of the doors of the school because he is an officer with the Granite School District Police Department.
Granite has had a fully functioning police department for decades, and although the novelty has long since worn off, that doesn’t mean critics are ready to take the pressure off the district.
“It makes no sense,” says Sheryl Allen, a former state representative. She has been talking about this anomaly of Utah education for 10 years, and she says a traditional police agency, like Unified Police which services much of Salt Lake County, could do a better and cheaper job.
“it just makes more sense to me to have local law enforcement handling it,” Allen said.
The former lawmaker also says Granite, like every district in the state, is dealing with a crushing teacher shortage. The money that goes to Granite School District police is significant; as much as $4.4 million a year. That is money Allen says should go into the classroom.
"This money could be put many other places because our school districts are not funded appropriately, especially when you consider there is a teacher shortage."
Ben Horsley, a spokesman for the school district, says the money is a small investment for an agency that gets 12,000 calls a year.
“If you look at our overall budget, it’s a very small percentage. It’s roughly $55 per student."
Horsley also says the school police department is cost effective. Three years ago, UPD approached the district about the possibility of taking over their policing duties. Horsley says if Granite were to accept the contract with UPD it would end up costing the district more money than what they currently pay for police services.
The Beyond The Books Investigative Unit, KUTV’s commitment to investigating education in Utah, looked into all those calls. Our investigators found that only 300 of those calls were for serious crimes like sex assault, fights, child about and truancy.
We found that Granite police spend a considerable amount of time on menial tasks. In fact, our analysis found that more than 1,100 calls where for things like false fire, door and boiler alarms.
Horsley says that many of those calls were responded to by other police agencies or custodians, but he says, not responding could be expensive, especially if a boiler were to malfunction or pipes were to freeze.
“We would need to have personnel on the ground in case a boiler goes out or a pipe freeze which happens more than you would think."
Allen also raised questions about the officers who work for the Granite School Police Department. Beyond The Books looked into that too. We found that two current Granite officers had been disciplined while working for other agencies. Three current Granite officers were involved with shooting with other agencies, and another three current officers caused serious car crashes while on the clock with other agencies.
Horsley said hiring qualified officers, like teachers, is difficult, but that the district tries to hire the very best.
“People makes mistakes,” says Horsley, “but I will say that when we review officers in their applications the same as we review teachers and other individuals we're looking for the best."
Horsley says the Granite School District Police Department is important because the district operates in some of the highest crime parts of the state/
“crime does not stop at the school house door," he said.
Horsely adds that several officers with the Granite School Police Department have helped prevent Columbine style massacres in local schools. Horsley also claimed if Allen had her way, as many as 11 schools, including the largest high school in the state, would be without a school resource officer.
Allen has been working for nearly a decade to get the district to shutter the police force. She has never found any footing and has never approached the district or asked questions about how the department works, according to Horsley.
Horsley also says the Granite officers have become a vital part of the safety apparatus of the district
“We certainly cannot be in a situation where we can’t have a police officer accessible to our students that puts our students at risk that’s something our board of education is not willing to part with."