After a prolonged absence due to the economic downturn, the School Resource Officer (SRO) program is back in action in Blaine, thanks to a partnership between the school district and the police department.
Jon Landis, a full-time officer at Blaine Police Department, commits four hours of his day to being on campus. He interacts with students, works with campus staff to provide security and takes a proactive role in engaging kids and families in matters of public safety. “We are actively engaging in the school district,” said Blaine police chief Mike Haslip. “We’re getting to know kids, playing foursquare, volleyball and just being a presence on campus.”
Superintendent Ron Spanjer said everyone at the school appreciates the return of the SRO.
“Over the last few years, when the number of officers on the force were down, we were seeing less access to officers during the day. They still checked in regularly, but we missed some of the ongoing outreach and education that was stronger in years past when the resources were there,” Spanjer said.
The district missed their SRO so much they were willing to foot part of the bill. The school board approved a measure to pay for a portion of the SRO’s salary in return for 20 hours per week of presence on campus. Amber Porter, business manager for the Blaine school district, said the district is still working with the city to negotiate the contract. The arrangement will be a year-to-year commitment on the part of the school board, Spanjer said.
“Being an open and highly accessible campus close to the border, we think it’s very valuable to have the visibility and proactive involvement of an officer on campus,” Spanjer said. “It makes it a safer place.”
The school board began looking into supporting a SRO last spring and implemented the program at the start of this school year. The SRO’s schedule fluctuates, but Spanjer said a routine of morning and lunchtime visits helps maximize the impact. The SRO is on campus in the mornings to make sure everyone gets safely into class, and then generally returns during the secondary lunch period to interact with middle school and high school students.
“This is proactive work, not responding to specific incidents, although he’s on hand should they arise,” Spanjer said. “As a rule, the most valuable component is the outreach. He gets to know the kids, he can help and engage families if they need it, and hopefully his presence helps break down some of the barriers of fear or trepidation that kids might have for law enforcement. We view it as a very positive relationship for the whole community.”
The return of the SRO is also a positive sign that the police force is rebounding from personnel cuts, but with two senior officers ready to retire at any time, hiring more police officers is a number one priority for the city. “I’m going to keep asking for an eleventh officer,” Haslip said. “I have a lot of concerns that we do this the right way, and get our staff back up to adequate levels.”
Paying the officers enough so they don’t leave Blaine after they are trained is another key to keeping the department staffed. “It doesn’t make sense to pay to train officers just to have them leave,” said Haslip at a city council meeting.
City council has approved a pay and classification study for all city employees. The $15,000 study, included on the preliminary budget that was filed November 1, will help determine what level of pay is competitive enough to keep police officers and other city staff on board. Copies of the preliminary budget are available for review in the city clerk’s office, and a public hearing on the final 2014 budget will be held Tuesday, November 12 and Monday, November 25 at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers, Blaine City Hall, 435 Martin Street, Suite 4000. For more information, contact the city clerk’s office by calling 360/332-8311.