Lewiston Police Officer Joe Stormes, school resource officer at Jenifer Junior High School, has hit on an unorthodox way to get more cops into the schools without tying up additional dollars or SROs.
Although Lewiston already has SROs at each junior high and the high school, it can’t afford additional officers, leaving gaps in coverage as well as little in the way of resources for the elementary schools.
Here’s where Stormes got creative: Police — presumably patrol officers — spend considerable amounts of their time on paper work such as wrapping up traffic accident and incident reports.
Laptop computers enable them to do that virtually anywhere.
Why not, he asked, offer them the opportunity to do so within a secure work space at the schools?
If nothing else, it spreads the public safety dollar in a smart and innovative way.
There’s nothing subtle about a patrol car parked outside a school. Nothing else comes close to spelling deterrence — especially when an officer’s unpredictable schedule means he could show up at any hour or any day.
It’s also a matter of developing law enforcement’s familiarity with the ins and outs of a school. Not only will the physical layout become second nature, but as cops get to know students and staff, they will discover who belongs there and who may not.
The schools win. They get enhanced security.
So do the cops. Associating with students in a supporting, nonthreatening environment offers police a chance to re-establish trust among some kids who even at their age have come to associate cops with the arrests of parents or friends.
Stormes’ boss, Lewiston Police Chief Budd Hurd, recognized a good idea when he heard it and put his commitment behind it.
“If they’re in town, they can stop by the elementary schools and stop by the junior highs and spend some time at recesses and lunches,” Hurd said. “When people start seeing patrol cars in and around schools at different times, it’s going to build some safety right into the program.”
Stormes’ idea is gaining traction across the country. The National Association of School Resource Officers has been promoting something like it for almost a decade — although the focus often has been toward encouraging sheriff’s deputies to work within more rural schools and allocating police to smaller, urban charter schools.
It’s only one component of enhancements a Lewiston school safety work group has been reviewing since convening last fall.
Better security demands remodeling school entrances, relying on the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security to evaluate physical plants, training for staff, drills for students and drawing upon on emerging programs that encourage students to recognize the signs of depression or mental illness among their friends.
But you can see why it generated genuine enthusiasm on Monday when the school safety work group forwarded Stormes’ idea to the Lewiston School Board: If Idahoans are good at nothing else, it’s finding creative ways to spend a tax dollar twice. — M.T.