EAST WENATCHEE — The Eastmont School District is one step closer to getting a school resource officer after the City Council approved an agreement between the district and the police department.
The action was taken during a council meeting Tuesday night. Council member Sasha Sleiman was the only nay vote, and councilmember John Sterk was excused.
Sleiman questioned if a school resource office (SRO) was necessary given the department’s existing outreach efforts and work with the community, which she said will help police build better relationships with students and parents alike.
“I am hopeful that the SRO chosen to go to Eastmont school district will be successful and have a positive impact on students,” she said in a message to The Wenatchee World, “However, I could not vote yes for this position at this time because national research and trends do not prove schools with SROs are any safer than schools without them.”
The school district has been considering a school resource officer since April, when Police Chief Rick Johnson proposed the idea. When Sleiman asked Johnson about how an SRO could impact arrests of students or criminalization of smaller crimes, Johnson dismissed the idea.
“I think that’s a common misconception with school resource officer programs — is this a pipeline to prison, does this get kids involved in the criminal justice system that wouldn’t otherwise be involved? The data does not support that,” he said.
Instead, he said, SROs focus on intervention and aligning students with services they need to avoid negative situations. Once an officer is selected for the position, they will be sent to an SRO academy to prepare for the role.
Councilmember Matthew Hepner raised the issue of whether the officer would be bilingual given the district’s growing diversity. Johnson responded that bilingual skills would not be a requirement for the position.
The council’s motion approving the agreement between the police department and school district included an adjustment of the cost, which Johnson said was incorrectly stated in the official agreement.
Under a corrected agreement, the city would pay for 40% of the $134,921 cost of an SRO and the school district would pay 60%. Johnson said he had discovered the incorrect amount earlier in the day and had not yet approached the school board about the correct amount, but suspected it was just an administrative error.
The district unanimously approved the agreement in a Sept. 13 School Board meeting. Spencer Taylor, the district’s executive director of elementary education, said an SRO would help enhance the district’s goal of a safe environment.
“An SRO will increase our positive school climate through relationship development with students, parents, and staff and provide leadership in our planning and response to emergencies,” Taylor said in an email.
Although the agreement is set to start in January 2022, Johnson said that may need to be pushed back to March. Johnson said the SRO would be a fully commissioned officer selected from existing personnel in coordination with the school district and that a new officer will be hired to replace whomever is selected for the SRO position.
Although the officer would be stationed at Eastmont High School, they would serve the district’s other schools as well. Johnson said in his experience, SROs spend a good deal of time at middle schools, adding that his department has had several incidents involving the junior high in the past few weeks but none at the high school.
His long-term goal is to have one SRO dedicated to the high school and another to the middle schools, which is Wenatchee’s current approach.
“Not every police officer is a perfect SRO for sure,” he said. “That’s something we talked about with the school district a lot, that will get them the right person or we would say we don’t we’re not able to fill it right now. But I’m confident we do have the right people right now and I have several people interested.”