Schools Get New Resource Officer

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Starting the first week of January, and to the end of the current school year, Payson's elementary schools will once again be the home beat of a school resource officer a new one thanks to a $27,708 grant accepted last night by the Payson Unified School District's board of supervisors.

"We are very happy that we are able to do this," Bill Lawson, PUSD's director of curriculum instruction and vocational programs, said. "We know that it really helps not only in allowing the kids to get to know police officers on a different level, but it's also a deterrent to have someone physically on campus. It certainly makes it much more safe."

Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who will oversee the selection of the new SRO, agrees.

"This is a great thing," Gartner said. "Any chance we have to work with kids in the schools is going to be a very positive experience."

Until the beginning of the current school year, Payson Police Officer David Blalock who has been the district's sole on-campus school resource officer was available exclusively for all Payson Unified School District schools. In September, however, a School Saftey grant cutback dictated that he respond only to calls from Payson High School, Rim Country Middle School and the Payson Center for Success.

PUSD has one additional SRO a probation officer hired through the Gila County probation department.

The School Expansion Grant for a School Resource Officer is a federal grant that comes through the State of Arizona as part of the Safe Schools legislation, said Lawson, who added that such reversals of fortune are not uncommon in the world of grants.

"In October or November, after our first request was turned down, we received a letter saying, 'OK, we've funded everything and there's a little money left; if you want to reapply (for an additional school resource officer), go ahead.' Of course, we did."

Who will fill the recreated position has yet to be decided, Gartner said, adding that whoever is selected "will be an experienced officer. We'll probably ask for memos of interest from officers in the department, and then determine their history and ability to work with children and the school. We have several officers who fit the bill guys that are involved in coaching and all sorts of extracurricular activities."

Hiring from the inside, the chief added, will mean that his department will then have to hire a new officer to replace the SRO.

The PUSD has utilized school resource officers for about seven years. The positions are part of a national program used by communities and schools in an attempt to address situations in the lives of students in a forum other than the judicial system.

The SRO, while in school, is involved in a variety of functions aimed at prevention. Besides being an active high profile law enforcement officer, he is a resource for students, parents, teachers and administration regarding law issues.

The SRO also serves as a link to other service agencies which provide preventive and counseling services within the school district. Working hand in hand with the principal in each school, the SRO assists with finding solutions to problems affecting students.

Red Cross agreement

Also approved at last night's school supervisors' meeting was an agreement between PUSD and the American Red Cross for use of the district's facilities as mass care shelters in the event of an area emergency a pact that has nothing at all to do with the town's always-evolving emergency preparedness plan.

"This is just an long-standing annual agreement the district reaches with the Red Cross," PUSD administrator Susan Everhart said. "It's ongoing. The last time they used our facilities it was during the Dude Fire. In the event something like that happened again, there has to be some kind of an agreement and this it is."

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