ELKO – School Resource Officers will continue to be a presence on local campuses for four more years.
The Elko County School District approved an agreement on June 12 that stipulates the district cover 80 percent of expenses with the City of Elko and Elko County, and the city covers the remainder.
The Elko City Council also approved the contract on Tuesday.
County Commissioners will review the contract at their next meeting June 20, according to Sheriff Jim Pitts.
“It’s been a very successful agreement,” said Superintendent Jeff Zander of the collaboration among the three entities.
Initiated in January 2015, two police officers and two sheriff’s deputies under the supervision of Sgt. Jim Carpenter began patrolling schools throughout the district. At the time, $500,000 in grant money funded the officers’ salaries, with an additional $262,000 raised through the three agencies.
This time the district will cover the cost of the officers’ salaries and overtime pay when they are on duty throughout the school year, including school functions and sporting events. The city and county will provide vehicles, equipment, supplies and training.
However, Zander said he hopes the program will eventually expand and include five more SROs, which would allow an officer to be permanently stationed at each of the middle schools and high schools district-wide.
“No doubt we’d like to grow the program and hopefully we can do that over time,” he said.
There is a possibility for that growth from the state Department of Education. A portion of $70 million in school safety funding could bring a one-time payout of $80,000 or up to $1.5 million – depending on how it is allocated – to the district earmarked for SROs, Zander explained.
“We’re hoping that might help subsidize the contract,” Zander said. “If we grow the program over time, we’ll amend the program at that point.”
School shootings at high schools in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas in the past few months increased awareness about campus safety, and heightened discussion on what safety measures to put into place at schools.
“We chose to invest our money in school resource officers rather than fencing or some of the other infrastructure-related projects that a lot of districts are putting into place,” Zander said. “[The SROs] build relationships with kids, site administrators and all of the other safety nets we have out there with Safe Voice, Communities In Schools and Family Resource Center and others, trying to head some of these issues off at the pass.”
Police Chief Ben Reed, who said he is also in favor of the additional officers, added that the program was “definitely part of the solution” because it puts a law enforcement presence at schools where it’s needed.
“We need to have a sheep dog watching the sheep,” he said. However, the burden shouldn’t just sit on the local agencies’ shoulders, he said.
“If we do grow, I sure want to see the state and federal government step up,” Reed said.
Reed also credited strong communication among the agencies and the efforts of several people who launched the program, adding that Zander – who is retiring at the end of the month – was also a factor in its development.
“Before Mr. Zander disappears, I’d like to credit him; the sheriff; Jeff Williams, former county commissioner; and Jack French,” Reed said. “Jeff was the leader on this … one of those who helped work this out and we really appreciate that.”
Zander said the success of the program went back to Pitts, Reed and French, the district’s former director of Secondary Education. He said they found the right officers for the job through their screening process.
“You have to have the right person to go in there and work with those kids,” Zander said. “It has been a very, very successful program.”