Police unit ready to patrol schools

EVERETT — On the computer in his patrol car, Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy Christopher “Topher” Ferreira keeps a map of south county schools.

He follows a route that zig-zags through south Everett, Edmonds, Mukilteo and Lynnwood.

Each week, he drives about 900 miles, keeping an eye on more than a dozen elementary schools in the Edmonds and Mukilteo school districts.

This week, the schools are mostly empty. Soon they’ll be bustling.

Ferreira is assigned to the sheriff’s new school safety unit, created by County Executive John Lovick earlier this year, when he was still sheriff. The move came after the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, where 20 children died.

The unit is readying for the school year. Together, the four deputies and their sergeant will serve more than 60 public and private schools in the county. Officials at each school work with the deputies to decide how much involvement makes sense there, Ferreira said.

Since the unit’s inception in March, Ferreira has been meeting with officials at the schools on his beat, he said. They talk about what he can do to help.

At some schools, he meets with troubled youth. He also gives safety talks. He walks around, looking for anything amiss. He reviews their plans for emergencies, and makes suggestions if they’re needed.

Last year, Ferreira worked with an elementary school student who was missing almost as many school days as he was attending, the deputy said.

By June, the kid was making it every day, he said.

“I want them to see me as a person, another adult they can trust,” he said. “We interact with them at their level. It’s not that I’m Mr. Cop.”

In nearly every case where violence breaks out at a school, there was someone who knew something about what was going to happen, Ferreira said.

By building relationships with students, staff and parents, he hopes they will trust him with concerns, he said. He’s already hearing about problems that may not warrant a 911 call, but still need addressing.

So far, the main safety issues on the elementary school campuses have been theft and kids’ behavioral problems, Ferreira said. He doesn’t see the fights, drugs or other issues that the deputies at high-school and middle-school campuses may encounter.

Still, he’s already worked with school leaders about gang colors and other related warning signs, even in young children, he said.

Olivia Park Elementary in south Everett is one of the schools where Ferreira is building a mentorship program.

The school last year had 640 students, nearly three-quarters of whom came from low-income families, Principal Edie Reclusado said.

When Ferreira first began visiting campus, they walked around together, she said.

She told him that students at the school come from countries around the globe. They may have single parents, or be struggling with issues at home. At school, adults should be role models for respect and responsibility, she said.

“He has a very nice, casual and accepting manner, which allows kids to see a uniformed sheriff’s deputy maybe with different eyes,” she said. “He’s there to befriend you. He’s there to support you. He’s there to ask you questions.”

At Picnic Point Elementary near Edmonds, Ferreira recommended the school start locking its classrooms’ external doors during the day. The doors also were fitted with alarms linked to a local emergency dispatch center.

In the Mukilteo district and in schools around the region, staff are moving to rearrange pick-up and drop-off areas to keep traffic flowing and make parking lots safer, the deputy said. He can help with that, and work with the county about possible road improvements, such as widening shoulders where kids are walking to class.

Schools in the program also have been adding fences and bolstering check-in policies for guests, he said.

At Picnic Point Elementary on Wednesday, a new sign faced the visitors parking lot reminding visitors to check in at the front office.

Schools generally don’t have extra money lying around for new security measures, and even a sign can help, Ferreira said.

“This is bigger than just the kids,” he said. “We have to be part of the school community for this to work.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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