As local districts prepare for the new school year, many are also making plans to have school resource officers on site thanks to $12 million in state funding approved by the School Safety Program Oversight Committee.
Both the Marana and Amphitheater school districts will benefit from the added funding. Marana schools will have a high school resource officer, and a junior high school officer. Amphitheater High School was approved for one officer.
Altogether, 137 schools statewide will get a school resource officer (SRO).
School safety has become a national discussion with the increase of school shootings. There have been 75 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December 2012.
Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp said he supports increasing SROs inside local schools. Even before the state funding was approved, the Oro Valley Police Department has provided an SRO at all schools located inside town limits, that includes Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro high schools.
Sharp said he was in Portland Ore. after one of the most recent schools shootings where the suspect opened fire, killing one. Sharp said in the incident, it was the school’s SRO who took action to prevent more lives from being lost.
“Our youth are our most underserved constituency,” Sharp said. “This is an investment in our future and funding this just makes sense. The officers are counselors, they are teachers and most of all, they are deterents.”
Sharp said he feels there are a variety of reasons for the increase in school shootings taking place nationwide.
“Look at the state of our society,” he said. “The recession hit social-service programs hard and we’ve had less of an environmental outreach. We have less resources available to help in coping with hard times. This is especially true with our young population.”
With on-site SROs inside the schools, Sharp said students who are struggling emotionally can be identified and hopefully helped before anything bad happens.
Todd Jaeger, assistant superintendent of the Amphitheater School District, said they are excited about the $110,000 in funding they have received to add another SRO to Amphitheater High School. Because the school is in Tucson city limits, the officer will be provided by the Tucson Police Department.
Jaeger said the school was approved because it met state-set criteria, including location, and crime activity in the area.
“(The Tucosn Police Department) used to provide services with some off-duty officers, but they never got a chance to really create those relationships that are crucial with students,” Jaeger said. “We not have the opportunity to have the same parity at Amphi that we have in Oro Valley. These officers add a great deal of safety and culture.”
In Marana, funding has been approved for two officers, which will be provided by the Marana Police Department.
Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema said the department had an SRO program in 2008, but budget cuts required them to stop funding the program.
Happy to get officers back inside the schools, Rozema said SROs “provide a conduit to have better relationships with the schools, students and parents. It gives officers more of the one-on-one contact with students.”
While school safety is a major priority, Rozema said the SRO program will also help in putting the important messages back in the schools and reach students at earlier ages like they used to.
Giving an example, Rozema said the “Just Say No” campaign was effective in the 1980s, those kinds of messages have been lost over the last decade because fewer officers are inside the schools.
“We have seen an increase in tobacco use and the more serious stuff like heroin,” Rozema said. “With this program, we will be able to identify vulnerable students and take important, preventative steps.”
Through the state program, 118 SRO officers in total will be hired for the new school year.