The future of the Hesperia Unified police force may be starting to come into sharper focus.
At Monday night's meeting of the HUSD school board, Superintendent Mark McKinney gave a presentation outlining his vision of how the district's police force should operate.
"It is clearly my intention to keep the school police focused on the school site," McKinney told the board.
One officer is assigned to each of the HUSD's three comprehensive high schools and its feeder schools. For instance, Sultana High School's officer also handles Ranchero Middle School and the elementary schools on the east side of town. Another officer handles Mojave High School and other sites. (Before the recession, the HUSD had planned to eventually expand to 10 police officers.)
Crime-fighting duties should be restricted to duties relevant to school sites — traffic control is meant to ensure the safety of students and staff, he said — except for criminal investigations of employees, which are to be handled by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Monday's presentation follows months of public sparring among members of the police force, McKinney and school board president Chris Bentley.
The police force was reduced this school year after years of being spared the cost-cutting axe. Last year's police department budget was $1.1 million, McKinney told the board. This year's was $836,000, about 30 percent less.
"We got to the point where we've cut everywhere else and we didn't have anywhere else to go," he said.
This spring, police officers accused McKinney of interfering with an investigation, and a private investigator's report substantiated their claims. McKinney and Bentley have characterized the accusations as a disconnect between the superintendent and police department regarding their areas of responsibility.
Bentley has said he believes the district could rely on contracted sheriff's deputies instead of an in-house police force as most California public school districts do. (Five out of 34 San Bernardino County school districts have their own police departments, including Apple Valley Unified, Fontana Unified, San Bernardino City Unified and Snowline Joint Unified.)
On Monday, McKinney argued against dissolving the district's police department in passing.
Several years ago when the HUSD had contracted deputies, he said, "if the county had a big thing, they'd take off."
Following McKinney's presentation, he was peppered with questions from minority board members Hardy Black and Anthony Riley, both who have publicly expressed support for the district police department and skepticism over how McKinney has been doing his job.
"Have you been very clear with the school police with what they're allowed and not allowed to do?" asked Riley.
"That's still a work in progress."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.