Erickson wants to bring back school resource officer

POULSBO — Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson thinks of the Hostmark area as a little city when school is in session — a little city in need of protection.

According to an October student head count, 2,369 students attend Poulsbo Elementary, Poulsbo Middle School and North Kitsap High School, all on Hostmark Avenue. Following the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Erickson will propose a budget amendment to reinstate a school resource officer for the Hostmark campuses.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that we need to have a police presence there," Erickson said. “Especially after what happened in Connecticut. It’s imperative to have it."

The Poulsbo City Council approved a $24.7 million budget for 2013 on Dec. 12, and is expected to officially adopt it Dec. 19. Erickson will bring the budget amendment forward to the City Council at its first meeting in January.

Though it is unknown exactly how a school resource officer would be funded, Erickson said the city will make it happen "even if we have to dip into our reserves."

In the past, the city and North Kitsap School District shared the cost of a resource officer. The position was eliminated about three years ago because of city and district budget cuts, Erickson said.

The final decision to make an amendment to the budget will be up to the City Council.

Though Erickson would like to pay for a resource officer out of the city's reserves if needed, she will reach out to the district and county to help financially. She would ask the county for assistance because a good majority of students attending Poulsbo schools do not live within city limits, she said.

Removing the resource officers from the district saved the district about $76,000 a year. The decision came as the school board was balancing the 2010-11 budget, with a $700,000 gap.

Both high schools formerly had resource officers — a police officer at NKHS and a sheriff's deputy at Kingston High School. Because the officers were taken away from other duties to patrol the schools, the program was partially funded by the school district. They also patrolled other schools in the district when needed. The officers acted as liaisons between the district and the police department or sheriff’s office, and handled crimes committed on campus, calls to child protective services and other legal issues. Officials say the officers’ presence acted as deterrents to crime in and around the schools.

Though there are no officers or sheriff deputies assigned to schools, there are employees, hired by the district, dedicated to security. District superintendent Patty Page said there are two security employees at NKHS, and at least one at Kingston High School. Both middle schools have a security staff member, she said.

The mayor's offer is "wonderful," Page said. District administration does feel it is providing a safe environment, however, she said.

Page and Erickson have not have a chance to meet about bringing back a resource officer. Page did not want to comment on whether or not the district would help fund an officer, because "we haven't had a conversation to talk about how that would work," she said.

NKHS Principal Judson Miller said he values the relationship between the school and the Poulsbo Police Department. "We can always use more resources, the more resources the better," he said.

Miller said a few students approached staff on Friday "in shock and concerned" about the Connecticut shootings, but many students didn't hear the full story until they were released for the day at 2:30 p.m. He said counseling staff is on hand Monday for any student who would like to talk. He said the school's focus is to work on establishing consistency, a safe routine and ensuring school is a welcoming place for students.

The school regularly practices different security drills, including a safety lockdown drill. Other local schools have similar drills. Jon Torgerson, principal of Suquamish Elementary School, said it’s important to reassure students, “letting them know they're safe, that we have a plan in place … [that] all the adults here are here to keep them safe,” he said. "We don't want to scare the kids, we want to let know we're doing everything we can to keep our school safe and protect them.”

Because of some local incidents in Kitsap, Erickson said she’s been asking for more than a year that a school resource officer be reinstated.

Matthew Henninger died Feb. 8 at Les Schwab Tire Center on Viking Avenue. He was shot and killed by Poulsbo police after he fired a handgun in the store.

Casey Cutlip was arrested Feb. 21 on suspicion of shooting his friend in the head at Viking Crest Condominiums.

Thomas Anthony Black was killed by tribal police after he pulled a gun during a warrant arrest in Suquamish in Dec. 8, 2011.

Erickson said she’s "heartbroken" for the people killed in Connecticut and their families, and said every political body should be considering upping security at schools.

"We have wakeup calls," she said.

— Reporter Megan Stephenson contributed to this report.

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