Officials discuss possible school resource officer

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By Nick Schrager

City and county leaders, along with the Kentucky Center of School Safety, discussed the possibility adding a law enforcement officer in the county’s schools.

According to Lucy Riffle, a retired middle school principal and representative for KCSS, school resource officers, or SROs, are a valuable addition to schools and not only help keep students safe, but act as role models, as well.

“Many times a child will come to them and say: ‘Hey, I got a ticket, how do I handle this,’” Riffle said. “Or they’ll come to them and say: “I know a neighbor that’s dealing drugs, what can I do about it?’”

From there, she said the SRO would be able to take the information and handle it without getting the child involved.
Another common question students often ask SROs is about how they become a law enforcement officer themselves.

“It’s amazing the number of kids that want to know what it takes to become a police officer,” Riffle said, “and the SRO is a good role model for them right there.”

Tim Messer, assistant principal at Washington County High School, asked Riffle if the right candidate were found, would they go through specialized training to work with special needs children on top of their regular training.

“Absolutely,” Riffle said. “That’s all included in basic SRO training, especially the special needs students, and basically, an SRO is going to follow your lead. They’re not going to put their hands on a kid unless you say ‘help us.’ They know all of the restraint, things that need to be done, unless someone is in physical danger.”

The one exception to this, she said, is if the officer witnesses a felony committed by a student. If a felony occurs, the officer is required to make an arrest.

She pointed out in 99 percent of cases where an officer has to make an intervention no arrests are made.

“Again, an SRO is not to do your school discipline at all,” she said.

That means an officer can’t be called in to take someone out of class for trivial reasons.
Resource officers on campus allow for a police presence, security rounds to be made in the hallways while classes are in session, and also allow for the school to search for contraband among students.

“One of the other major things you must do is a memorandum of agreement or memorandum of understanding,” Riffle said, adding that doing so makes the officer an agent of the school and allows them to conduct searches for safety concerns.

Messer also asked about recent negative media attention towards SROs. Riffle said that just like any law enforcement agency, some people just might not be good at filling a particular role.

“The problem is, you have bad cops,” she said. “You had some bad SROs.”

In some cases, Riffle pointed out when something negative involving an SRO happens, it may be because they didn’t go through the proper training.

When it comes to administrative duties, Riffle said schools and the law enforcement agency meet together to do officer evaluations. Doing so allows the agency to have an idea of how the officer is doing when he’s in the hallways and not on the roads.

“They actually meet together so that the person who is evaluating is doing an informed evaluation and not just guess,” Riffle said. “Because once they’re off the road (the department) has no idea what they’re doing.”

Board chair Curtis Hamilton asked how vehicle and equipment costs work. Riffle said in Erlanger, where she’s from, the law enforcement agency provides all of the equipment and employment benefits, while the board reimburses the agency for salary.

“Every place is different,” she said.  

Washington County Superintendent Robin Cochran asked about how the pay schedule would work. Because most teachers are off in the summer months and have to budget their pay differently, she wondered how that would translate to an SRO.

Often, Riffle said, SROs will either go back on patrol for a few months, or if they’re retired, which many SROs are, they’re just thrilled to have the time off for leisure activities.
Springfield Mayor Debbie Wakefield asked school board members what their ultimate goals were.

“Are you looking at putting a resource officer just here in the high school,” Wakefield asked. “Or having multiple schools that they would be going to?”

Hamilton said at the moment, the district is just looking for ideas. The board met with Riffle at a prior meeting just to talk a little bit about the subject.

“It would be primarily at the high school,” Hamilton said, “but they would go to all of the other schools, too.”
One thing the board decided on is that the officer wouldn’t have a set schedule of going to certain schools on certain days of the week. Board member Sheri Chesser added the SRO would be on call in case of an emergency.

Wakefield pointed out near the end of the meeting that the city wants to help keep students safe, but it has to get officers on the street first.

“That’s where we are right now, trying to get fully staffed,” Wakefield said.

Springfield Police Chief Jim Smith said having an SRO would be an extra position at the police department.

“I’m trying to pull for another slot in addition to what we’ve got just for the street,” Smith said.

A decision was not made and plans for adding one are not in the immediate future.