The Olympia School District is willing to pay for police officers’ training that meets the legislative requirements of School Resources Officers (SRO) program, OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy said during the joint work session with the Olympia City council on Thursday, June 2.
The Washington Office of Superintendent of Instruction’s (OSPI) website defines an SRO as a “commissioned law enforcement officer in WA with sworn authority to make arrests. They are specifically deployed in community-oriented policing and assigned by the employing police department or sheriff's office to work in schools to build positive relationships with students and respond to potential crimes affecting or occurring in or around K-12 schools.”
OSPI furthers that SROs focus on keeping students out of the criminal justice system.
OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy said the district suspended the SRO program at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the OSD has not enter a new memorandum of understanding with the Olympia Police District.
However, Murphy said the OPD could not provide staff for the SRO program because of a staffing issue.
“Getting enough officers, even if we have that availability, they did not have that options...what we heard is there is some in the queue that are in the academy and there might be some lateral moves across the agency,” Murphy said.
After the mass shooting incident in Uvalde, Texas school on May 24, when 19 students and two teachers were killed, Murphy said people asked to make the schools safe.
“I always tell people (even) without an SRO program, we have a strong relationship with OPD. They respond anytime you need them,” he said.
According to Murphy, some people too have concerns about police officers on campus.
“There are different opinions on that, but our police officers help us on all sorts of issues,” he said. “If we get this training and we get the officer staffed up, I think we really need to rethink how that might look like and how [the program] could be better. We need to get students and families’ voice.”
OSD board of director Scott Clifthorne cited some of why they had to suspend the MOU for the SRO program. He said over the last seven years of the program, 100% of the arrests made on campuses by SROs were for warrants that had nothing to do with criminal activity on campus.
“It is hard to see kids arrested on campus for things that didn’t happen on campus,” Clifthorne commented.
Clifthorne is more receptive to a conversation about a school liaison officer program.
City manager Jay Burney said they left the two SRO positions vacant.
Burney added Olympia is in the middle of community engagement for the Reimagine Public Safety process. They want the OSD and the students’ voices regarding reimagined SRO programs and safe campuses.
OSD Board of Director Hilary Seidel said whether there is SRO, the real issue is gun control.
“It makes our kids unsafe, it makes our police unsafe. Imagine being a police officer trying to intervene in a school shooting in this day and age where people can get any gun they want. We are on the same side. I think the real issue is gun control,” she said.
Murphy agreed that access to firearms has to be addressed.
While she favored the reinstatement of SRO in schools, Mayor Cheryl Selby said the reimagined SRO program is not a “magic shield of safety.”
She said it takes the entire community to have a safe environment, including responsible gun ownership.
Murphy said they will continue the discussion on SRO further in future work sessions.
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