The Sunnyside Police Department and School District have had a long-standing partnership in strengthening a safe and learning environment for students — School Resource Officers (SROs) are an integral part of that valuable bond which must be protected at all costs — council members are presently weighing the price and benefits associated with that relationship as they decide to drastically limit or cut the campus program.
During the Monday, May 6, Council workshop at the Law and Justice Center, Police Chief Al Escalera and Cmdr. Scott Bailey, along with Sunnyside High School Principal Ryan Maxwell and School District Student Support Services Director Doug Rogers, provided a comprehensive overview about the duties and responsibilities of SROs.
They emphasized the level of trust and rapport they developed between officers, students, staff and parents — SROs perform a wide variety of crime prevention education responsibilities that help build the foundation for an increased level of security at the schools, while maintaining a secure campus.
The two SROs are projected to receive about 671 calls during the school year, which is approximately 185 days.
Police and school administration officials believe more students are reporting criminal activity due to the trust and rapport with the officers.
When there are criminal infractions on campus, SROs are highly trained and possess specialized knowledge for dealing with response, investigation, reportage and transportation of area youth to the Yakima County Juvenile Detention Center.
About 10 years ago, there was approximately 300 known gang members in the high school. Graduation rates were well below 70 percent and public safety issues, from top to bottom, alarmed everyone. There’s been a positive and substantial change in both those community statistics.
Now, graduation rates are above 90 percent, and Sunnyside’s crime rate has significantly fallen. A concerted effort by the City leaders, police and school officials, as well as public involvement have all contributed in raising the quality of life standards.
In February, more than 62 percent of voters passed the $16 million school bond. The main purpose of the bond issue was to address the increasing number of students and safety related issues.
District officials reported that Sunnyside High School is over capacity by about 220 students, and that number is expected to increase to more than 400 over the next few years.
In Sunnyside, there are more than 6,700 students and 950 employees among eight schools.
The City’s budgetary issues have been a major area of concern, along with across the board spending reductions to balance general fund expenditures with revenues.
Prior to approving the City’s 2019 budget, council members looked at the Police Department’s budget and the SRO contract with the School District.
City Manager Martin Casey explained to the elected officials that police officers would still be required to respond to calls for service at schools, regardless of being on patrol or specifically assigned to the role of SRO. The workload would not change.
For those who attempt to quantify or may only see in a black and red, accounts payable and receivable manner, a community-wide investment in our students continues to be made. It’s our duty to take responsive actions which empower a safe and learning environment for Sunnyside’s future — we need to be our youth’s heroes, not the other way around.