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'First line of defense': Treasure Valley police departments explain role of school resource officers

Police departments around the Treasure Valley told KTVB they offer their SROs some of the best training when it comes to active shooter and active killing events.

BOISE, Idaho — As more information continues to be released about the deadly shooting at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school that killed 21 people, more questions continue to rise as well. Parents and families around the Gem State are beginning to think about the role school resource officers (SRO) play in school safety and security in Idaho.

Police departments around the Treasure Valley told KTVB they offer their SROs some of the best training when it comes to active shooter and active killing events.

Lt. Shawn Harper with Meridian Police's Community Services Division, which oversees the department SROs, said officers all go through 20-30 hours of intense training on this topic when joining the force. They must take a 10-hour refresher course every year.

Other departments, like Nampa Police, said they go through active shooter training or similar ones quarterly.

"That training works in any environment, whether it's outdoors, indoor schools, commercial faith-based locations," Harper said. "That training is consistent across the board and we use a nationally recognized training program through ALERT, which is out of Central Texas."

Boise Police Captain Spencer Fomby, who leads the department's training, education and development division (TED), said agencies around the region have coordinated training so their officers receive similar education. Fomby said 300 officers in BPD are going through this yearly training currently.

"All of us will respond to these emergencies when they happen. We want to make sure that we're using the same tactics and have the same protocols," Fomby said.

Training can range from scenarios involving a single officer or multiple officers responding, to strategies on entering structures and approaching threats, according to Sgt. Jason Cantrell with the Nampa Police Department. He calls SROs the "first line of defense" for schools.

"I guarantee you those SROs that are in the school are making a difference," Cantrell said.

Cantrell, who oversees his department's SROs and training, said there is a three-phase process when handling an active killing or shooter event. Number one is to stop the killing as quickly as possible. He said if his officers receive information there is an active killing going on they are trained to make entry into the structure or event, move to the threat and stop it.

"We can't afford for an officer not to have the ability to go take action and stop the killing," Cantrell said.

Officers are then trained to provide medical help to those injured and work with partner agencies around the area to provide relief as quickly as possible. He added another role with SRO is to teach students and staff how to respond to emergency situations and events by working on lockdown procedures.

However, to do that Cantrell and other law enforcement in the Valley said it starts by building trust and relationships with students and staff.

"They're there to integrate and communicate with students, build relationships with the school community, and make sure that people are safe," Fomby said. He added that SROs are not there for administrative discipline issues.

  • Boise PD has 17 SROs in Boise and West Ada School Districts, including two supervisors. 
  • Nampa PD has 12 SROs in the Nampa School District, with one supervisor.
  • Meridian Police Department has 11 SROs in West Ada.

"They have to be pretty well-rounded because they're dealing with our younger populations," Harper said. "We provide them ongoing training in regards to de-escalation. We deal with a lot of mental health training, anything that we can potentially do to help resolve any issues that go on in the school."

"They have that relationship for students to be able to come and tell them and say, 'Hey, I've had another student that told me not to come to school tomorrow," Cantrell said.

Cantrell said by building those relationships has been able to stop multiple potential tragedies within the last few years.

"They feel that they can call them anytime, day or night," Cantrell said.

Schools across the gem state also work with the Idaho Board of Education's Idaho School Safety and Security program. The office visits and assesses schools in the Gem State about any vulnerabilities within the buildings and recommendations to improve safety. They do a vulnerability assessment for schools every three years.

Program manager Mike Munger said SRO partnerships are crucial for the safety of schools.

"One of the things that is a really strong indicator for us is a school's community connection when it comes to safety and security," Munger said. "At the end of the day, our office isn't going to come out and help them if they have a situation, it's going to be that local law enforcement, it's going to be local fire, sheriff's offices, their local support agencies, and all of those folks are truly the people who are available to them in the event of an emergency."

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