Student resource officer

Hal Richardson, a student resource officer, poses for a photo as students walk past at Bozeman High in this 2019 Chronicle file photo.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Some big city school districts across the nation are removing police officers from schools in response to racial justice protests, but Bozeman school officials plan to keep police as a key part of the team that keeps students and staffs safe.

The 7,111-student Bozeman School District had four school resource officers, known as SROs, this past school year. Two worked at Bozeman High School, and two more were responsible for one middle school and four feeder elementary schools each.

Superintendent Bob Connors said interviews were just conducted to hire one additional police officer to start next fall inside new Gallatin High School, which will bring the total to five.

“The plan right now is to keep our SROs,” Connors said. “We feel very comfortable with our relationship with SROs.”

The school district splits the cost 50/50 with the city of Bozeman. This year the school district has budgeted some $300,000 for SROs, said Mike Waterman, business services director.

School Board Chair Sandy Wilson said as a former teacher, she talks with students and has never heard anything negative about the SROs.

“I’ve heard really positive things,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen them in hallways at the high school and they’re great with kids…. I believe, personally, every community is different and their needs are different and relations with police are different.”

Marilyn King, deputy superintendent for instruction, whose duties include school safety, said Bozeman schools “absolutely” plan to keep the SROs. “They are an integral part of our schools.”

After the tragic 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and teachers, Bozeman parents and teachers met as the school safety committee, King said. “Parents and staff feel very strongly about safety and they wholeheartedly supported our school resource officer program.”

Sgt. Hal Richardson, who supervises the SROs from his office at Bozeman High, said the program is positive for the community. “We want to be part of what makes Bozeman a special place to live.”

Nationally, defunding the police has become a rallying cry at many Black Lives Matters protests, sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed black people.

School districts in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Denver have moved toward removing police from schools, the New York Times reports, out of concern that police may pose more of a danger, particularly to racial minority students, and that money would be better spent on social workers or counselors.

King said Bozeman schools are spending money on both SROs and mental health professionals. This past school year the district hired four “student assistance specialists” to work with middle and high school students who have experienced trauma.

Bozeman schools take a team approach, she said. If a student is having a tough time, the team could include the principal, a counselor, an SRO, a student assistance specialist, the family and outside agencies.

Richardson said SROs are trained in the “triad” model developed by the National Association of School Resource Officers, to take on three different roles.

They act as teachers, going into classrooms to talk about drugs and alcohol, constitutional rights, and cyber privacy. They act as counselors and mentors, giving students a safe adult to talk to. And they sometimes act as law enforcement officers, like helping to break up fights. That’s the only time Richardson said he’s aware of Bozeman SROs laying a hand on students.

SROs hang out with students at lunch, and sometimes hear allegations of child abuse, King said. When Bozeman High got a bomb threat a few years ago, the principal and SRO worked side-by-side to resolve the case, Richardson said.

King said at Sacajawea Middle School, she has seen students passing in the hallway greeting Officer Jon Ogden. “He’s a big guy,” she said. “They’re jumping up and giving high-fives. That’s typical.”

At Chief Joseph Middle School, students decorated Officer Jeremy Tankink’s office on his birthday, she said. “That speaks volumes to the relationships SROs work to build.”

When hiring SROs, King said, school administrators look for officers who are very relatable. “It’s a calling for our SROs,” she said. “They want to work with our young people.”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.