MERIDIAN, Idaho — The Meridian Police Department (MPD) is providing school resource officers (SROs) to West Ada School District (WASD) elementary schools for the first time, according to Meridian Mayor Robert Simison.
Mayor Simison proposed the idea in 2022 following the Uvalde, Texas shooting at Robb Elementary that killed 19 children and two teachers.
"I think it struck a chord with everybody, especially when you see what can happen in our elementary schools," Mayor Simison said. "It just made sense to say, 'Let’s take that extra step. Let's invest in getting resources into our elementary schools and getting the resources into our community.'"
Specifically, those resources are six new SROs tasked with working at three different elementary schools each. In total, MPD now provides 19 SROs to WASD across their high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools.
"Those of us in the police department have advocated for years, we wanted to get SROs," MPD Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said.
Meridian City Council approved allocating $931,321 for six new SROs. This total budget includes one-time costs such as uniforms and patrol cars, according to Meridian Communications Manager Stephany Galbreaith.
The city's 2023 fiscal year budget shows an ongoing cost of $674,509. That includes taxes, employee benefits, and retirement.
"One of the things that was important to me was trying to get out police department more into our communities and our subdivisions. Elementary schools are often in those subdivisions. That's how you make those community connections," Mayor Simison said. "I think the main thing for people to understand is getting our police in our community is a priority. That's what community policing is all about."
MPD originally pulled officers from patrol to start filling the six new SRO positions; the department has since filled those patrol vacancies and the new SRO openings. No resources have been sacrificed to implement the new elementary school SRO program; rather, resources have been added.
"The security portion of it is certainly something we have a strong focus on in all of our schools in all of our SRO's," Chief Basterrechea said. "Something we knew would happen is the connection between the kids and the SRO's at the elementary level. We've had great pictures sent to us from parents."
Exposing people to police in situations outside of law enforcement is an important part of gaining community trust, according to Chief Basterrechea. This is an added benefit of the program.
"We want kids to have positive interactions early on. A lot of times they don't have that interaction early on. The only time they see an officer is when [the officer is] taking enforcement action," Chief Basterrechea said. "We want to emphasize that relationship. Letting those kids really get to know [the SROs] and interact with them. You realize they're good people and they're here to help."
For comparison and reference, KTVB reached out to school districts across southern Idaho to gauge how prevalent SROs are in the area:
- The Boise School District (BSD) has 12 SROs, according to BSD Public Affairs Administrator Dan Hollar. The district has five SROs assigned to each high school and seven SROs across eight junior high schools. Junior high SROs provide support to elementary schools.
- The Nampa School District (NSD) has ten SROs across its 23 different school sites, according to NSD Director of Communications and Community Relations Kathleen Tuck.
- The Caldwell School District (CSD) has five SROs, according to CSD Director of Communication Jessica Watts.
- The Vallivue School District (VSD) has five SROs shared across 13 schools, according to VSD spokesperson Joey Palmer. The majority of their time is spent at the six high schools in the district.
- The Twin Falls School District (TFSD) has six SROs, according to TFSD Public Relations Director Eva Craner. Each high school and middle school campus has an SRO. SROs are spread among elementary school campuses with help from an armed security company.
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