By MEGAN STEPHENSON
and KIPP ROBERTSON
POULSBO — Mayor Becky Erickson is committed to bringing a school resource officer back to Poulsbo schools.
Shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14, where 20 children and six staff members were killed, Erickson sent an email to several local leaders asking to reinforce the protection of students by reinstating a police officer at Poulsbo schools. She wrote she intended to bring the topic up for discussion at a City Council meeting.
“This is how … the best intentions get out ahead of us,” Erickson said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “After what has occurred [in Newtown], it is apparent it is a very, very good idea to replace that officer.”
The schools last had a school resource officer, or SRO, in 2010; the program was not renewed because of budget cuts.
Erickson asked the council on Wednesday to think about finding funds to pay for an SRO, and said she would ask County Commissioner Rob Gelder and North Kitsap School District Superintendent Patty Page to partner with the city to fund the position. An SRO is estimated to initially cost around $150,000 — a $63,000 salary, benefits, and $49,000 for a patrol car.
Deputy Chief Bob Wright provided several goals for the SRO’s position: provide security for school and special school events, investigate crimes in and around schools, counsel students as needed, participate in school/parent meetings, assist law enforcement agencies with crimes involving students, liaison between students and social agencies, and participate in campus activities, student organizations and athletic events.
Most important to many on the council, the officer would “provide a positive image and positive role model for students.”
Wright said the officer is an avenue to give youth, teachers and administration the help they may need, and “shows youth police officers are approachable.”
“It’s preventable medicine, so to speak,” Councilman David Musgrove said.
Within the city limits, Poulsbo has 2,859 students, plus Gateway Christian School’s 100 students.
Erickson said an SRO is a way to hire another officer that Poulsbo needs regardless. She has been advocating for hiring two more officers for the last few years. Earlier this year, an interview panel narrowed down a few candidates, some with SWAT experience, to be hired when funds become available.
Wright said Poulsbo is understaffed given the size of the city: Poulsbo has 1.6 officers per one inhabitant, but the FBI states a city of Poulsbo’s size should have 3.5 officers per inhabitant.
The school district also entered into an agreement with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office for schools outside of Poulsbo. Page said it is an annual agreement that essentially provides coverage at events, such as sporting events. It was signed before the events at Newtown.
North Kitsap School Board member Bill Webb would like to see more security in schools. On Thursday, there was yet another school shooting in Kern County, Calif., Webb said as an example.
However, adding one or two officers to the school district would not do a whole lot more in the way of protection, he said.
“I’m all for it,” Webb said. “I don’t know how the heck we’re going to pay for it …”
The district cut more than $2 million from the 2012-13 budget. The district cut one campus security officer position this year, which saved the district $25,000, according to Jenn Markaryan, school district spokeswoman.
Adding someone from law enforcement, at this point, would mean cuts elsewhere. And, to be fair, if the district added an officer in Poulsbo, Webb said it would need to add one in Kingston.
“We’re closing a school because we’re so broke,” he said.
Though he doesn’t see a tremendous gain in security — one officer between five Poulsbo schools would not dramatically increase response time — Webb does see a benefit from the educational standpoint. Students could learn that law enforcement are approachable, he said.
In the end, if hiring a recourse officer means cutting a teaching position, Webb is against it.
“If it means laying off a teacher, I’m not for it,” he said.
Though there are no officers or sheriff deputies assigned to schools, there are employees, hired by the district, dedicated to security. There are two campus security officers at NKHS, and at least one at Kingston High School. Both middle schools have a security staff member, she said.
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 public safety matters. Officials say the officers’ presence acted as deterrents to crime in and around the schools.
The decision to remove the last officer came as the school board was balancing the 2010-11 budget, with a $700,000 gap.
Schools in the district regularly practice security drills. On top of that, Webb said the schools are being mapped, so law enforcement will know exactly where to go within a school in case of an emergency.