SROs working at Piner High School (Photo: Lieutenant Jeneane Kucker)
By Brooke Cregan, staff writer
The Santa Rosa City School Board voted seven to zero this past summer to pause the School Resource Officer program and reevaluate the need for police on school campuses. The SRCS district created a committee of students, parents, teachers, police officers and city and school leaders to examine the issue of whether or not there should be police officers on school campuses. This is the first year at Maria Carrillo High School that an SRO is not present on campus.
Josephine Rivera-Hoagland, junior, said, “They are there to prevent horrible tragedies like what happened in Parkland with the school shootings, but, at the same time, we are in this moment of reckoning from the Black Lives Matter movement, so it’s hard to know exactly where that balance is.” English teacher Jordan Henry said, “I think that they benefit some students but not all, and that’s why the vote went through.”
The former Santa Rosa Police Sergeant in charge of the resource officer program, Tommy Isachsen, explained that SROs were on campuses to “provide safety for the campus [and] humanize officers.” He says he can see that students no longer get that opportunity to meet officers and see them as regular humans. Now officers will likely be meeting young people in more negative situations when the police need to be called. They can’t make relationships with the kids anymore, Isachsen said, adding that the biggest effect MCHS will have is that students will now meet “officers who aren’t specialized in dealing with students and staff…someone who’s just going to come out and try to solve the problem.”
Rivera-Hoagland said if the school had the SRO back, she would feel “more safe because I have heard about school shootings, and unfortunately they are rising, so I would be more comfortable knowing that there is a police officer on campus who would know what to do.” Albert Ettedgui, assistant principal, said that “kids seemed pretty comfortable approaching Officer Jones just to bounce questions off of him.” Overall, the majority of kids seem to be fine with having an SRO, but the school board hoped to look out for the few who are not.”
Evette Minor was a parent representative of the SRO ad-hoc committee, a temporary committee to work on the issue as a group, as she worked to find the concerns and the reasons for them. The biggest question she said the panel asked was, “Why did that happen the way it happened?” Looking deep into the negative events reported in the student surveys about the SRO program was a priority for them. The committee, who spent around six months looking into the pros and cons of SROs, found one of the important concerns to be that the SROs’ and administrators’ roles often became confused, and the SROs were doing things that the administration should have been doing. Lack of clearly defined roles seemed to be part of the problem at schools.
When it comes to interactions with our SRO, Henry’s encounters were “only positive,” and Ettedgui’s were also “all positive.” Rivera-Hoagland said she didn’t have many interactions with him, but generally she felt comfortable.
About this year Henry said, “I haven’t noticed a change.” Ettedgui’s thoughts were that “we’re down one adult, and it happens to be a uniformed police officer, but, at the end of the day, it’s really one more adult who cares about student safety and student support. It left a void; we miss him.”
The school board trustees did not want to sign a written agreement with the SRPD so the officers have been moved to new jobs at the police department. With the staffing shortages at SRPD, it will be difficult for the school officers to be restored. It’s up to the School Board and the City of Santa Rosa to come together and decide if they want to bring back the SROs to high school campuses or keep the program on pause indefinitely.