Washington Police Department

As school districts around the country bolster their security in the wake of recent school shootings, the Washington Police Department and School District look to add manpower to their joint team of officers patrolling area schools.

Washington Police Department and School District hope to have a third student resource officer operating at district elementary schools by the beginning of the coming school year, according to Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes.

Student resource officers (SRO) are tasked with increasing the safety and security at school. They are often employed through local law enforcement, but funded by both the police and the school district they serve.

The city of Washington currently has two resource officers. Sitzes said, if another is approved by the city, the third would be able to not only patrol city elementary schools, but the many elementary schools spread outside of city limits.

The desire for a new SRO spans back to at least 2016, when the Washington police department sought a grant that would have covered the cost of a third SRO at the district.

For Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer, bolstering the safety of her students and staff is paramount. She said adding a third SRO makes sense in light of recent events and the district’s strategic plan.

“Having another trained law enforcement official gives us peace of mind and another layer of protection,” VanLeer said. “That gives us more coverage at the elementary level.”

She said the district has made strides to improve its relationships with law enforcement in the area. Those relationships, VanLeer added, would pay off if an incident were to occur in a school district building.

“We’re all on the same page in regards to training and handling specific incidents,” VanLeer said. “Adding to the presence and developing a good relationship with law enforcement is best for everyone.”

Stretched Thin

Sitzes said there is a need for a third SRO for the district and outlying elementary schools.. He said the two SROs stationed at the Washington High School and Middle School are stretched thin as is.

“With the way the SRO program is going, the two officers we have can’t keep up,” Sitzes said.

For instance, Sitzes noted, when an inmate of the Franklin County Jail escaped late last month, an SRO was sent to South Point Elementary to give parents peace of mind. He said, while there was no indication the inmate would flee in the direction of South Point, SROs give teachers, parents and students a good measure of safety.

But safety isn’t the only concern of an SRO. The officers also work with students in the D.A.R.E. program and intervene if a student is out of control or having other behavioral issues. 

Sitzes said the department receives a good amount of calls from the elementary schools in town, where student concentration is greater.

“We have more calls for services at the elementary schools of students being disruptive,” Sitzes said. “There are some behavioral issues, threat assessments they can help with. 

He said, while the officer would spend the majority of their time at elementary schools in town, they would also be required to spend time at the outlying schools further out in the county, like Campbellton, Augusta, Clearview, Marthasville and Labadie elementary schools.

“We’re going to have them go out and maybe spend four or five hours a day at a school and then a few hours at another,” Sitzes said. “The majority of the workload will be handled at the elementary schools here in town because that’s where there’s the largest concentration of kids.”

Funding and Timeline

Currently, the school district and police department split SROs’ salary based on the amount of time they spend at each institution. Sitzes said the district has been moving to cover 75 percent of the salary, and typically already covers that with the way the hours are doled out.

If the new position were approved, the district would cover 75 percent of a third SRO’s pay, according to Sitzes.

The position will need to be approved by the city council, but there is no indication of when the issue might be brought forward. Sitzes said, however, the district and police department hope to have a new SRO in place before the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

“If all the parties can get together it could happen in August,” Sitzes said.