MORE OFFICERS IN SCHOOLS?
Kennewick has included money in its 2019-20 budget to help pay for school resource officers at all five middle schools.
It was mid-morning Friday, and Dylan Lettrick had a problem.
The eighth-grader at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick couldn’t get his locker open. He needed the binder inside.
Luckily, Officer Tim Harris happened to be walking by.
After a few tries, Harris popped it open and saved the day — to Dylan’s great relief.
It’s one of the ways, big and small, that Harris is making a difference at Highlands as its new school resource officer, or SRO.
And there may be even more police officers like him stationed at Kennewick middle schools next academic year.
Officials say SROs make the schools and community safer in more ways than one, including increasing how quickly officers can respond to serious school violence and bullying threats. It also allows other patrol officers to remain on the streets to handle calls in the community.
The police department and school district share the top priority of school safety, said Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, adding that SROs are a key part of that safety equation. They patrol and protect the schools, investigate issues and so on, he said.
They’re also another trusted adult kids can go to if they need help.
The city has included money in its preliminary 2019-20 budget to help pay for SROs at all five middle schools, bringing the SRO ranks to eight total, including the three who’ve been stationed at the district’s high schools for years.
School district officials haven’t yet decided whether they’ll need those additional middle school SROs yet.
But, “it’ll give me the flexibility to do whatever we need to do to partner with the school district,” Hohenberg said.
The city council is scheduled to vote on the budget Dec. 4.
Like many districts,
Kennewick has long had high school SROs.
But this past spring, the school board voted to add two more to cover its middle schools.
Harris is based at Highlands and also covers Chinook and Desert Hills. Officer Dave Hughes covers Park and Horse Heaven Hills.
They also help with any issues at their middle school’s feeder elementaries, where the district already has spent tens of thousands on security upgrades to its oldest and most vulnerable schools.
The city and school district are on different budget cycles, so the district is paying for the middle school SRO this year because the police budget already was set, Hohenberg said. Generally, the two organizations roughly split the costs.
The city has about $1 million budgeted for eight SROs in the 2019-20 budget.
The district would reimburse for its share, Hohenberg said.
He sees school resource officers as role models.
“We strive to treat all people with dignity, respect and fairness. They’re able to model that behavior,” Hohenberg said, adding that “it’s a personal connection (kids) have with a police officer. They remember their DARE officer, their SRO, just like their favorite teachers.”
Ron Williamson, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the school district “couldn’t ask for a better partnership with the Kennewick Police Department. We need something and make a call, and they respond. School safety is at the top of their list.”
The district will look at whether it needs to add more middle school SROs in the spring, he said.
Other Tri-City districts also have school resource officers.
Pasco has them at all its middle and high schools.
In Richland, SROs work at Hanford and Richland high schools and also cover the middle schools as needed.
The city of West Richland also is paying for a third SRO to cover the middle schools in its boundaries.
At Highlands on Friday, in between opening stuck lockers, Harris chatted with a food service worker, greeted students picking up breakfast and popped into a classroom. That’s common for him — he’s working to build relationships, to be a trusted presence.
A while back, he even dusted off his own math skills to help a student in that sixth-grade class.
“I was helping her with fractions, and I was like, ‘I think you know this better than I do,’” Harris said with a laugh.
But he tried. And it made a difference.
He has a thank you note from the student tucked away in his desk.
It reads, “Thanks so much for helping me with my math work. Even if you say you’re not good at fractions, I really think you’re super good at fractions.” The girl also thanked Harris for making the school safe.
School resource officer Tim Harris, with the Kennewick police, shares a light moment with student Chris Jackson during an informal classroom visit recently at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick. It’s one of the ways, big and small, that Harris is making a difference at Highlands. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video
School resource officer Tim Harris at Highlands Middle School. Officials say SROs make schools and the community safer by, for example, letting officers respond faster to school violence and bullying threats, freeing other patrol officers to stay on the streets.