East Grand considers school resource officer
Americans are no strangers to violence in schools.
Tragic and traumatic school shootings like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary are cultural touchstones for our society in much the same way as the 9/11 terror attacks. For anyone who was alive and living in Colorado when the Columbine High School murders occurred in the late ’90s, the need for safe learning spaces can seem especially significant.
Earlier this week Granby’s chief of police Jim Kraker addressed the East Grand School District Board of Education with a proposal to create a new School Resource Officer. The proposal is still purely in the discussion phase with no formal decisions made but local law enforcement is lobbying the school district to take up the issue.
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School Resource Officers, commonly referred to as SROs, are fully certified peace officers with the same statutory authority as their compatriot police officers but who focus their attention on schools. According to a presentation from chief Kraker, SROs fill three roles in schools.
The first and most obvious one is as a form of law enforcement. The law enforcement duties of SROs include: patrolling school property, responding to campus calls for service, assisting with truancy issues, risk assessment and providing an on-campus presence that serves as a crime deterrent.
Secondly, SROs serve as educators for both students and school staff. As educators, SROs cover a number of topics including: constitutional law, conflict resolution, crisis prevention, suicide prevention, and sex abuse and assault prevention.
Third, SROs serve as informal counselors, said Kraker, and help supplement the efforts of formal school district counselors by developing relationships with students, engaging in parental outreach, serving as liaisons for at-risk students, and providing an alternative to legal system assistance.
Kraker pointed out SROs cannot serve as a replacement to counselors but can supplement them by providing informal assistance to students in need.
“There is a lot to do in that position,” said Kraker. “It is much more than a security guard at the door saying hi to kids.”
“When we are looking at an SRO, we are looking at a very specific type of person,” said Kraker, who noted not all police officers are well suited for the unique role. “We are looking for someone who likes kids. We are looking for police experience; we are not looking to bring in a rookie cop as SRO. An SRO needs a lot of experience and lots of de-escalation skills.”
Kraker also sought to address concerns that an SRO would lead to more students becoming involved in the legal system for relatively minor infractions.
“We do have in place an existing discipline process,” Kraker said. “We won’t bypass this system to go right into the legal system. This is to avoid the legal system and assist the school. … I do not believe in using this to increase the number of kids in juvenile services. I see this decreasing that.”
Kraker also noted that any potential SRO within East Grand would operate under the same constitutional guidelines police officers adhere to with the general public regarding searches and would not have the same expansive freedoms to search student property as school administrators.
“An SRO is not subject to the same rights as school employees in terms of vehicle or locker searchers,” Kraker said. “We still operate under the Fourth Amendment’s rights.”
If an SRO is brought in the officer will officially be an employee of the Granby Police Department and not an East Grand employee. Kraker said he envisions any future SRO as being dressed down from standard police uniforms, with a polo shirt and khaki pants, but also clearly marked as an SRO with a visible tactical belt and weapon and wearing soft body armor. Kraker added an SRO would utilize a marked patrol vehicle while on duty.
An SRO wage breakdown and benefit sheet provided by Kraker sets an SRO salary at $54,070.75. Including insurance and other benefits the total cost would vary, depending upon if the SRO is single or has a family, between $70,000 and $85,000.
Kraker highlighted several expense breakdown scenarios that included potentially asking the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Grand County Family Services to assist in covering portions of the overall cost.
The East Grand School Board was receptive to the idea, but Board vice president Taunia Shipman highlighted her budgetary concerns.
“We as a board have to be wise and prudent with our safety,” Shipman said. “But we also have to be wise and prudent with our budget. We know we don’t have $27,000 out there. How is this going to be paid for?”
Shipman highlighted her opinion that the Granby Police are already highly responsive to the needs of the school district and questioned if additional spending was needed in light of the current dynamics.
“What are we giving up to get this?” Shipman asked rhetorically. “This is a great conversation to have. I applaud you for challenging us in this area. But we have to drill down and talk numbers, talk with the community. Is this a good fit for our school district of 1,200?”
The school board tabled the issue and plans to discuss SROs at future meetings before making a formal decision.
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