As some school districts decide how or if to fit school resource officers into their budgets, a legislative interim study and a task force this year are examining needs and funding for the officers and other ways to make schools safer.
Federal funds are tightening, and a bill in the state Legislature that would have provided money for school resource officers failed to win approval in the recent session. House Bill 230 proposed one officer per 1,000 students.
The state funding model that provides money to school districts doesn’t account for school resource officers, said HB230 sponsor Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis. The bill would have provided funds outside of that model.
The bill would have given some ‘gap funding’ until the group that will make recommendations on school safety and security completes a report, he said. Gov. Matt Mead asked the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to start the group, which is studying matters including training, safer buildings and school resource officers.
Niobrara County School District officials had wanted a school resource officer to help fight drug and alcohol use, Superintendent Richard Luchsinger said.
“I think it cuts the crime rate in your community simply by having SROs in the buildings," Luchsinger said. "Kids find a new respect for law enforcement officers… by being with one every day and seeing that they are people just like they are.”
The Hot Springs County School District stands to lose its school resource officer because the position is funded from a grant that expires this summer. But its schools received ample support from local law enforcement even before it employed the resource officer, Superintendent Dustin Hunt said. No decision has been made about whether the district will keep the school resource officer, he said.
“Basically, what we’d be losing is time during the day that the officer would actually be stationed in the schools,” Hunt said. “But the availability of an officer is always pretty darn good.”
Salaries for the two school resource officers in Natrona County are funded through the Casper Police Department and federal funds called Title I -- a source that’s facing cuts, according to Dean Braughton, director of Student Support Services for the Natrona County School District.
No budget decisions have been made, said Steve Hopkins, associate superintendent for business services for the Natrona County School District, but he doesn’t anticipate losing either of the district's two officers.
“I think the school response officers are a very high priority for the district,” Hopkins said, “so one way or another I think we’ll find a way to retain the ones that we have.”
While the district already dedicates substantial resources to safety, more would better prevent criminal and safety incidents, Hopkins added.
Cody Myers is a school resource officer in Riverton and a member of the task force. He works with two other officers at Fremont School District No. 25. Besides responding to calls and patrolling, his duties include a number of preventive safety programs with students.
School Resource Officer Scott Schulte is a member of the Casper Police Department. When he’s not responding to numerous calls from schools that range from fights to suspected drug use, he’s patrolling campuses.
Schulte said the rapport with students is important, and students often approach him to talk about a variety of subjects.
Braughton agreed. “They are stopping at the schools, walking in the cafeterias, high-fiving kids, talking with the kids,” he said, adding that their presence prevents crimes.
Schulte and another officer cover the district of more than 12,000 students, so the proposal in the bill would have provided 10 more officers.
“That would greatly alleviate the backlog of calls we take,” Schulte said, “We could be in schools more as a resource instead of a response. Obviously the presence would be a lot more visible. You’d get to know the kids a lot better.”