Everett sergeant explains importance of school resource officers
Within hours of Friday’s mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, Republican lawmakers in Washington state, including Senator John Braun (R-District 20) and Representative Jim Walsh (R-District 19), called for a special legislative session to address school safety in time for the next school year.
They both support spending $250 million to fully fund the state’s school resource officer program.
State Rep. Dave Hayes (R-District 10) tried to get $30 million for the program through an amendment to the budget passed in February — that failed. The wide-ranging school safety bill (SB 6620) offered by Democratic Senator David Frockt last session would have required grants be awarded to police agencies and school districts for school resource officers. That bill, which also included gun control measures, failed to get a vote.
But some school districts already have armed school resource officers on many of their campuses, including Everett.
Sgt. Tim Reeves leads the team and says a big part of their job is developing relationships with not just school staff and teachers, but the students; really getting to know them so that if there’s an issue, the students will come to them. That’s especially important if that issue is a student talking about gun violence.
“What’s getting challenging is, I think, that there’s a mental health crisis with children and then when you add on top of that access to weapons and social media and social pressures in this day and age … I think it makes it tough for kids to be kids.”
Sgt. Reeves says that’s why having school resource officers on campus is so important.
“Anytime there’s a kid with an issue we’re obviously going to pay more attention to them, try and work with them. We always try and get the kids counseling wherever we can no matter what it is, not just a school threat that’s part of the beauty of working with the schools is that we can work with the counselors and the administrators to get the kids whatever they need.”
Reeves says because all the resource officers in Everett are actual police officers, they also have access to services for troubled kids the schools may not and that can help.
While preventing school violence is the goal, they’re always training for the worst-case scenario; paying close attention to any threats to shoot up a school, which Reeves says they’re seeing more than they’d like and must take seriously.
“You have to … you have no choice. You have to do it or otherwise, it can bite you. We have to assume that whatever the kid is doing [they are] doing it for real and making that choice or making that threat for real until we determine otherwise. It’s the safest way to do business.”
And when they do get such a threat?
“Some of the threats are pretty benign and not a big deal and it’s just playground type issues and then there are other threats that are very serious. And so depending on where our investigation leads, we’ll do what we need to do.
“Our biggest thing is access to weapons. Does he have access to weapons? Is he just lashing out and he says he going to do something and he doesn’t have the opportunity or the wherewithal to do it? If he does have access to weapons then we work with the family to do something, either making sure they’re secure or out of the house.”
Though parents don’t have to comply, he says they usually do. Some prosecutors and lawmakers are looking at the expanded use of our state’s Extreme Risk Protection Orders that would allow courts to mandate the removal of a parent’s gun from a home where a kid has threatened gun violence. The current law is silent on that issue.
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Reeves says the six resource officers in Everett schools do all they can to protect students, but keeping schools secure is about more than that.
“School security is not just one person’s job. It’s not the principal’s job anymore, it’s not the assistant principal’s job, it’s not the SROs job … it’s everybody’s job. It’s everyone plus the parents and the students and we’re teaching staff and teachers and parents to be aware, to listen to kids…what are they saying? And bring that forward.”
He says one of the other big safety measures he supports is single entry points at schools. They’re upgrading many schools in Everett with just a single access door in or out that requires someone buzz people in.
Other schools across the state have that already and others are working on it.