TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The future of School Resource Officers at Tucson Unified School District is up in the air.
The program recently came under scrutiny as clashes with law enforcement in the U.S. gained attention.
After hearing from parents, teachers and students, the TUSD governing board had an opportunity to make changes to the current program on Tuesday night, Nov. 17. Instead, they decided pause the conversation.
“As a mom myself; I have three children, I just love working with children,” said Dep. Rachel Everhart.
It’s what took Everhart off the streets as a patrol deputy, and into campuses as a resource officer.
“The public doesn’t realize it’s more than just showing up and walking around,” she said.
Everhart says SROs provide a sense of security, but it’s not their only goal.
“Our purpose is we want to have that relationship where we are interacting with [students] daily, we are being a mentor,” Everhart said.
A lot of that, she says, involves keeping kids on a positive path.
“Some of the examples would be early drug prevention classes,” she said. “You plant little seeds in their life that; if you keep mentoring and encouraging them, they will be become confident adults on the path to success. [When students commit an offense, we have] a diversion program for that. We are going to look at what was the crime, if there was a law enforcement action that needed to be taken, but we really want to rehabilitate them.”
TUSD’s SRO program, which was started in the 60s, has been in the spotlight lately. A few months ago, the governing board asked a community advisory council to gauge the public’s response through surveys, focus groups and meetings.
On Tuesday, the advisory board recommended the following changes:
- Develop policies and practices for SRO program alignment.
- Re-evaluate the use of TUSD funds to support SROs until there is accountability measures in place (with a focus on equity).
- Adopt a feeder school model.
- Bi-annual review of program effectiveness.
- Train school staff to monitor the SRO program.
- Develop a tracking system that measures safety, discipline and mentoring services.
- Convene a safety advisory committee to implement, monitor and evaluate recommendations for the SRO program.
- Conduct a review of training for SROs, which should include family engagement.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has SROs stationed at middle and high schools throughout the county, including a few in TUSD. However, Tucson police make up most of the SROs in the district.
Several parents have called for their removal, saying the district should reallocate funds to monitors and mental health workers.
Everhart says SROs are equipped to handle behavioral issues, as she’s received crisis intervention and juvenile mental health training.
“I was at the student hearings … and that was one of the most upsetting experiences to hear our students talk about,” said Kristel Ann Foster, the governing board president. “They don’t see our SROs as mentors and they feel petrified; the ones that spoke. I don’t think until our society holds officers accountable for their actions. I even feel comfortable working towards a mentorship role.”
“I would hate to think we are going to be judging this out of some abstract concern for national issues when we should be focused on how this police department handles itself,” said Bruce Burke, a governing board member. “This year, there has been no serious concern about the structure of this program. I would summarize the recommendations to be ‘mend it, don’t end it.’”
“This [agenda item] is about the overall usage and continued allowance of School Resource Officers, regardless of where they are coming from and regardless of funding sources,” said Dr. Gabriel Trujillo, the TUSD superintendent. “There are several officers that do not come out of district funds. There is an agreement that covers five officers that costs district money. Before we can get to that conversation, we need to know what the governing board plans to do with School Resource Officers in general.”
What the governing board decided, though, was to postpone the item so that the three new board members have a say once they take office in 2021.
Right now, only three SROs will remain on campus because they are funded by the state.
For Everhart, who works at Amphitheater schools, the move doesn’t impact her role. A thank you note from a student in her office is a daily reminder of why she got into this line of work.
“[Students] see the human side of us,” she said. “Some of the things they are hearing on social media is something that we will have to overcome as law enforcement.”