Sheriff to assign 5 deputies for school security patrols

Sheriff’s deputies will be assigned to schools in unincorporated Snohomish County as part of an effort to step up security.

A new five-member school services unit starts in mid-March in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Sheriff John Lovick said.

“I’ve been in public life for a lot of years,” he said. “Nothing has impacted me more than Sandy Hook. Some nights I can’t sleep thinking about it.

“We’ll pull deputies from other responsibilities,” Lovick said. “We believe this is a vital thing for us to do with our officers.”

In addition to providing security, the deputies will review and update school emergency response plans, mentor at-risk students, investigate rumors and follow up on crimes at the school.

Lovick’s plan for adding on-campus officers would reverse a trend in recent years in which cash-strapped school districts and police departments cut back such programs. Countywide, roughly half of those programs were cut.

The plan calls for each deputy to work at between two and nine schools, depending on enrollment, location, the age of the students and any history of crime or violence at the school. The unit won’t be able to cover many of the 106 schools in unincorporated Snohomish County. Which schools will be selected hasn’t been decided.

Lovick said he hopes to expand the school services unit to 10 members by the end of this school year. In addition, he said he would like to recruit a cadre of retired law enforcement officers to work as school volunteers.

Salaries and equipment for the expanded unit is expected to cost about $1 million, he said.

The deputies in the new school services unit would be in addition to law enforcement officers who currently work in Snohomish County schools, some of which are paid for by the school districts.

For example, the Everett Police Department currently provides school resource officers at no cost to North, Evergreen and Eisenhower middle schools.

The school district pays for police officers at Everett, Cascade, Sequoia and Jackson high schools and Heatherwood Middle School, said Jeff Russell, school board president. The officers come from Everett or Mill Creek, depending on the school’s location.

The average cost for each of the three officers the school district pays to have on-campus is $77,501.

The only middle school that currently does not have a police officer assigned on campus is Gateway Middle School, although there is a school district security officer there, Russell said.

Lovick acknowledged that his department likely will need donations from businesses and school districts. “I know budgets are tight,” he said. “I’ll try to speak to every school board I can.”

The money would be well spent, he said. “There’s no greater responsibility than protecting our children.”

Lovick said he is contacting major corporations, such as Costco, Microsoft and Amazon to see if they will donate.

He also plans to meet with leaders of schools in unincorporated Snohomish County.

Lovick outlined last week his proposal to the Everett School Board, making a request for the district to pay for the salary of a deputy for the nine-month school year.

Superintendent Gary Cohn said Lovick has talked to him about paying half the costs for one deputy to work at the district’s schools in unincorporated Snohomish County.

“It’s a wonderful offer,” Cohn said. “We’ll work with the sheriff to make it a reality.”

The school board will consider adding an officer at Gateway Middle School, Russell said. Since it’s located in unincorporated Snohomish County, the officer would come from the sheriff’s office, he said.

Russell said he expects that the school board will discuss the issue at a board meeting in February.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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