By Rikki King Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — Just a few years ago, almost every major high school in Snohomish County had an on-campus police officer, and some middle schools did, too.
Now, with school districts and cop shops similarly hurting for cash, roughly half of those programs have gone away.
Still, police and school administrators agree that keeping officers on campus makes an immeasurable difference not just for crime prevention, but in students’ lives.
School resource officers develop personal relationships with students and get to know the school’s culture and geography. They also can serve as a liaison between the cops and the school districts — two groups that get along, but don’t always understand each other’s missions.
The most recent program to end was at Snohomish High School in June.
The Snohomish School District originally decided to cut the program in 2011, but the city agreed to pay for the officer to stay at the school until June.
During the same time, Snohomish switched from having a local police department to contracting for police services with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
School districts and police agencies generally share the cost of school resource officers, though the break-down varies by community, and some receive grants.
Keeping a school resource officer at Snohomish High School was expected to cost $115,048 a year, City Manager Larry Bauman said. That included the deputy’s wages, benefits, overtime and vehicle use.
Of that, the school district would have had to pay $86,286.
The Snohomish School District has made tough cuts in the past few years, including eliminating 30 teaching positions, Superintendent Bill Mester said.
The budget for this coming school year is less strained, and the school resource officer program was valuable, but the district must focus resources on bringing classroom sizes back down, he said.
“This is not something either one of us want, but the budgets right now are demanding,” he said.
Mester also noted that the police station is close by, and officers always have arrived immediately after major incidents.
When two freshman girls were attacked and stabbed in a bathroom at Snohomish High School in October, a school resource officer was one of the first emergency responders on scene, Snohomish Police Chief John Flood said.
The officer was on duty elsewhere at the time but knew exactly where to go.
Another advantage of having a police officer on a school campus is to help teens deal with problems in their lives. Young people often feel more comfortable reporting sexual and physical violence to school resource officers than calling 911, especially if it’s happening at home, Flood said. School resource officers hear tips about drug deals and other crimes because students trust them.
“Take away the uniform and the badge, and they know that individual and they feel like they can connect to them,” Flood said.
The end of the program also means there will be one fewer sheriff’s deputy assigned within Snohomish city limits. The sheriff’s contract allotted for 18 deputies, including the school resource officer position, Flood said.
“Essentially that body was removed and sent back to the county,” he said.
Snohomish High School will be added to existing police patrol beats, Flood said.
It’s not clear how often police will need to respond there. The school resource officer handled the bulk of school-related incidents, such as cellphone thefts and car break-ins.
The sheriff’s office now has deputies deployed at four high schools: Stanwood, Sultan, Mariner and Lynnwood, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
The school districts pick up three-quarters of the tab, and the sheriff’s office the rest. The deputies are reassigned during school vacations.
Elsewhere in the county, Arlington, Everett, Mill Creek, Monroe and Lake Stevens still have school resource officer programs. Everett has perhaps the most robust, with six officers assigned to middle and high schools in the Everett and Mukilteo school districts.
Marysville’s program was phased out this past winter. Granite Falls’ program ended in summer 2011.
The Edmonds School District dropped officers from Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace in 2010 due to budget cuts, police and school officials said. It did keep a deputy at Lynnwood High School, which is in unincorporated Snohomish County.
The Lakewood School District, north of Marysville, also ended its program in 2010.
The Mukilteo police department ended its program in 2000.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.