A Matter of Trust
Granite County holds open forum to introduce communities to idea of a Student Resource Officer on Campus.
DRUMMOND - Their last name most likely won't be Friday, but the new School Resource Officer (SRO) being hired by Granite County will be working the day-watch out of our local schools.
The Granite County Commissioners Office, in conjunction with the Drummond School Board and Granite Sherriff's Department, held an informational meeting April 5 at the Drummond School & Community Library to give interested parties a preview of what the new position in local schools will look like. The SRO will work between the county schools, spending a few days on each campus throughout the week on a random schedule and will be funded by the Sherriff's Department.
The meeting was attended by about a dozen people.
Sherriff Scott Dunkerson brought in Officer Bryan Fischer, a member of the Helena Police Department and the SRO at Helena High School for the past four years, to give attendees an insight into what an officer in that capacity does and the environment they try to create. Both Fischer and Dunkerson, along with members of the Drummond School Board, also attended a Granite County Commissioner's meeting earlier in the day in Philipsburg to focus on the same topic.
"What we try to do (in Helena) is to create and develop solutions to get services they (students) need," said Fischer. "We're not here to write tickets, we're here to provide resources for the kids."
Fischer made it clear that a huge part of an SRO's job is create a rapport with the students, faculty and staff so that the officer is approachable and accessible.
"We want the kids to feel like they have another person they can talk to about things," he continued. "If something is going on, they may feel that they can talk to an SRO instead of their teacher for whatever reason.
"We also help check on things like child abuse or other concerns that may become apparent, or provide follow up on cases with a parent's consent."
Part of Fischer's relationship with the kids at the elementary level in Helena include them having nicknamed him 'Officer Fishsticks'.
Dunkerson noted that Granite County's call volume has steadily increased in his department over the last few years, with Fischer adding that in schools where there is an SRO statistics have shown that those volumes tend to go down. Fischer noted that local crime statistics such as theft, fights and drugs all tend to decrease when there is an SRO presence in a school system such as Helena.
"As an SRO builds rapport with the students," Dunkerson explained, "it provides a place for kids to go. We should see a similar decrease (in call volume) as our SRO builds those relationships and gains a rapport with them."
The SRO position would also help alleviate requests from school officials for specific training from the Sherriff's Department on topics such as drug recognition. Dunkerson noted that these requests are fewer than they would be in a larger city, but the general topics are pretty much the same.
Several youth in attendance at the meeting were very much in favor of an SRO coming to the Drummond campus.
When asked about what situations an SRO might be helpful with, Wendy Golyer thought bullying on social media and in person would be things she could go to an on-campus officer about.
"I think it would make things better and help us (students) to solve problems," added her younger sister Lilly.
Fischer noted that from the SRO's perspective, his first time on campus as an SRO was the scariest thing he'd ever done.
"You don't know anything going in," said Fischer. "I told my commander, 'Put me on SWAT or raiding drug houses, but that first day on a campus was just scary!'
"You don't know the students, or the faculty or the school community. You don't know the staff. You just have no idea what to expect."
Dunkerson noted that the addition of the SRO is not because Granite County has a problem in its schools, but rather that the county leadership desires to be proactive in preventing anything from coming onto the campuses that could affect the students and staff.
"You live along the Interstate," said Fischer, "and I'm not going to tell you that nothing happens here. But the presence of an officer tends to turn those possible problems away from the school campus."
According to Dunkerson, the SRO position would work the school campuses in Granite County during the school year, which generally sees its call volume dip as the months get colder. During the warmer months and when school is not in session, the position would do shift work and help with investigations.
"If we have a call in whatever town they (the SRO) are in, they'll be dispatched to that incident like any other officer," said Dunkerson.