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New hires pave way for additional law enforcement presence at local schools to make them safer

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Prineville Police Department will be providing the Crook County School District with a second school resource officer.

Following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in mid-February, parents and other local residents started to push more passionately than ever for school safety improvements.

Among the many suggestions arising from discussions throughout the winter and spring was an increased police presence at local schools. Historically, one school resource officer (SRO) has served the Crook County School District, but people wanted more.

The school district and police department took notice and will soon act on it. Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins said the department will add three new officers, making it possible for more senior officials to fill a new SRO position as well as a new Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team role and a sergeant vacancy.

"(Former Superintendent Duane) Yecha got a hold of me before he left and asked what it would take to get a new school resource officer. The schools really wanted one," Cummins said. "We negotiated with the schools and figured out a way to pay for it."

Cummins said that the addition of a new SRO is just the latest in several school safety efforts district staff has employed in recent years. He noted that they looked at all of their buildings, and a couple SWAT team members and county law enforcement officials viewed the facilities and made safety improvement suggestions that have since been adopted.

By adding a second SRO, Cummins said the school district not only adds more of a police presence, it makes that presence at the schools less predictable for people who may have ill intent.

"With only one, it is pretty easy to know where they are at a given time, what school they are at," he explained. "With two, it will be a lot better because we can move them around and just never know which schools the officers will be in."

Cummins, who came to Prineville from the Gresham Police Department, acknowledges that some school districts utilize even more SROs in an attempt to have a police presence at every school. However, he doesn't feel that is necessary in Crook County.

"In some of the larger areas, because you have many more students and maybe a community that is a little more fractured, that doesn't communicate as well, it is harder to catch the kids when they are having issues," he said. "I think in Crook County, we are not there."

The police chief credits the strong relationships the police department and school district staff have built with each other as well as with the students.

"I am a firm believer that communication and relationships are everything," he said. "If (a student) sees something that just isn't right, they need to say something. For us to get them to say something, they have to be comfortable enough with law enforcement and comfortable enough with faculty to feel that if they go say something, that is the right thing to do and there will be a positive response instead of a negative one."

Though a new SRO hire is planned, they will not join the schools when students first return to class. Cummins explained that the new hires will need training before they are ready to work patrol, so until that time comes, they cannot start the process of determining which senior officer will fill the SRO position.

Typically, it takes about 18 months to train a new officer to the point they are ready to patrol Prineville streets, however, Cummins said he is making lateral hires that won't need as much training. He estimates it will take at least six months from the date of hire — likely in July or August — to prepare the new officers for local police work.

Once the department begins its internal search for an SRO, they will work with the school district to ensure they are comfortable with the officer chosen.

"We will let the schools decide where they want them and when they want them," Cummins said, "and we will evaluate over the next few years and see if that is an adequate resource allocation."

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