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Police 'adopt-a-school' after loss of resource officer funding

Renton Police Officer James Mitchell visits Benson Hill Elementary School this past week. - Dean A. Radford, Renton Reporter
Renton Police Officer James Mitchell visits Benson Hill Elementary School this past week.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford, Renton Reporter

While in the past a police cruiser parked in a school may have been a sign of an emergency, changes in police procedure involving schools mean that may no longer be the case.

“If you see a lot of cop cars out at a school, don’t be alarmed,” said Commander Chad Karlewicz. “It’s by design.”

The Renton Police Department this year has started an “adopt-a-school” program that encourages its officers to routinely stop at schools along their beats, going so far as to encourage them to sit in the lots while they handle paperwork.

“If they have downtime or are working on paperwork from other calls, we’re asking them to work on it at a school lot,” Karlewicz said.

The change is due to a loss in grant funding that resulted in the department losing money for its three school resource officer positions. So this year, instead of designated SROs being assigned to the beat, the department is simply telling patrol officers to spend some of their day at a school.

“Because of funding issues, that program has gone away,” Karlewicz said of the resource officers.

The idea now is for police to be visible and be seen at school, even when there is nothing wrong. The officers are expected to meet and get to know the school administrators, that way when they have to respond to a call at a school, they will be on a first-name basis.

Karlewicz said during the SRO program, the three officers were assigned to the district’s three high schools, which meant the elementary and middle schools weren’t seeing police unless something went wrong.

This year, while the presence at the high schools has dropped, Karlewicz said the other buildings are seeing “infinitely more” service.

“We’re stopping in,” he said, adding that several officers are helping lockdown drills and other goings-on at the school. “It’s a conscious, concerted effort to spend more time at the schools.”

At St. Anthony’s in downtown Renton, the school hosted an assembly on Monday to introduce its officer to the students. Principal Michael Cantu said the new program is great from his perspective, because now his building has a police presence where before it did not.

“As a principal I love it and just his presence is calming,” Cantu said. “It’s a good feeling to have him coming by.”

Cantu said the kids also enjoy seeing the police.

“They responded real well to him,” Cantu said, adding that he has a “nice approach to kids.”

Karlewicz said the response to the program overall has been positive from the schools.

“It’s been met with great joy,” he said.

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