It’s Thursday, 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 the campus of 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 the doors of a local school, because he is an officer with the Granite School District Police Department.
Granite SD 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,” said former state Rep. Sheryl Allen. She has been talking about this anomaly of Utah education for 10 years, and says a traditional police agency like the Unified Police Department, which services much of Salt Lake County, could do the job in Granite schools better and cheaper.
“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,” Allen said.
Ben Horsley, a spokesman for the school district, says the money is a small investment for an agency that responds to 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 said.
The Beyond The Books Investigative Unit, KUTV’s commitment to investigating education in Utah, looked into all those calls. Our investigators found that 300 of those calls were for serious crimes like sexual assault, fights, child abuse and truancy. More than 1,100 calls to Granite School District PD were for things like false fire, door and boiler alarms.
Horsley says 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 freezes, which happens more than you would think,” Horsley said.
Former Rep. Allen also raised questions about the officers who work for the Granite School District 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 while employed with other agencies, and another three current officers caused serious car crashes while on the clock with other agencies.
Horsley says hiring qualified officers, like teachers, is difficult — but he says the district tries to hire the very best.
“People makes mistakes,” Horsley said, “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 schoolhouse door," Horsley said.
He adds that several officers with the Granite SD PD have helped prevent Columbine-style massacres in our schools.
Rep. Allen has been working for nearly a decade to get the district to shutter the department. She has never found any footing, Horsley says because 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," Horsley said.