Florence City Council heard a report from the newly initiated School Resource Officer (SRO) program at Siuslaw School District during Monday’s city council meeting.
City Manager Erin Reynolds introduced Florence Police Sgt. Brandon Ott and Officer Brandon Bailey to the city council.
“They are both operating our SRO program, a new program for the city,” Reynolds said. “Any time we spend money on new things, we like to make sure that you’re in the know about what’s going on in a very significant aspect of our community.”
According to the adopted City of Florence Biennial Budget for 2017-2019, the SRO position is fully offset by funding from the Siuslaw School District and a federal grant totaling $107,000.
The SRO program works with Siuslaw School District, primarily the elementary and middle school, to develop a law enforcement presence on campus.
Ott said, “Towards the end of the summer, Commander Pitcher and myself decided that I would be trained up to temporarily staff this position. It has actually turned out to be a fun and awesome assignment, and has been really enjoyable.”
Florence Police Department put three officers through the National Association of School Resource Officers Basic SRO program. The course requires 40 hours of training.
“This provides us with some redundancy to handle staffing challenges that may come up from time to time,” Ott said. “It is good training, even for someone who has already been an officer for a period of time, since there are a lot of differences between being a police officer on the street and being a police officer in a school.”
Bailey has also gone through the program, and will likely take over as Siuslaw’s SRO in January.
“As a school officer, you perform some educational tasks, some informal counseling tasks, and down at the bottom of the triangle is the law enforcement task,” Ott said. “It is certainly not any bigger or more of a part than the other two. Law enforcement is really only a third of that job. I like that analogy.”
Since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Ott and the SRO program have worked to improve school safety by having an increased presence in school facilities; detect and apprehend students who miss school; conduct driver safety talks with teen drivers for Teen Driver Safety Week; and assist in traffic enforcement and safety around the Siuslaw schools on Oak Street.
“There was a big increase in the positive interactions with students, both on and off campus,” Ott said. “Even in this short period of time, I’ve run into these kids at the grocery store and they recognize me as an officer, even when I’m not working. They want to come talk to me about stuff. It’s been a huge rapport-building experience with a lot of the ‘littles.’”
In addition, Ott said he also investigates thefts at the school.
“They tell you that the No. 1 thing you’re going to do from a law enforcement perspective in the school is investigate stolen cell phones and iPods. I was like, ‘Really?’ I didn’t think it was going to be a thing, but it is. So, hold on to your cell phones and iPods,” he said.
Florence Police Department solicits donations from private parties to provide National Child Safety Council materials for area youth, such as online and real-life safety information, anti-bullying pledges and other educational handouts.
“They have some really cool stuff for all sorts of different age groups, like age-appropriate materials for internet safety,” Ott said. “They also have cool stuff like stickers and bracelets, which I call ‘currency’ at the elementary school. There’s no quicker way to getting a kid’s attention.”
Florence Police Chief Tom Turner said that the SRO program was able to participate in Bullying Prevention Month and drug prevention activities in October.
Using the National Child Safety Council materials, Ott was able to visit classrooms and interact with students while promoting healthy behaviors.
“It’s just great community interaction,” Turner said.
National Child Safety Council also provided reflective trick-or-treat bags which Florence Police Auxiliary members handed out at Florence Justice Center on Halloween.
“Other than that, we’ve just been having fun,” Ott said. “I went on a field trip to Sweet Creek Falls last month. The kids thought that was pretty neat. I also got to let kids pull the fire alarm for a fire drill, they thought that was super cool. It’s just been really fun.”
He said that he gets positive feedback from students and staff, though it wasn’t always that way. For the first month, students were confused by the officer’s presence and wondered if something was wrong.
“Now, when I’m not there, they wonder where their officer is at. Just in that short period of time,” Ott said. “In a couple years, we’re going to see some huge rewards from this program.”
“The kids are much more receptive to the police,” he said. “That is the community caretaking and building up that we are doing there. That’s already showing and taking effect. It’s very beneficial, even at this point, and I’m excited to see where everything goes.”
When he officially steps into the role, Bailey said he looks forward to growing the program.
According to Ott, the Siuslaw students are making him and the SRO program feel welcome.
“The kids are super creative and make all sorts of really cool and cute ‘thank you’ stuff. They give it to us on a regular basis,” he said.
He added that he puts their art up in his office.
Florence Mayor Joe Henry said, “We really appreciate your service and efforts. I think it’s something that builds long-term and gives a fair perspective on what the police are about.”
“It’s great to see the police giving back to the community and working with the kids,” Councilor Joshua Greene said. “This is all very helpful for people to realize. The police are with us, they take care of us, they are here to protect us and they can still train and teach the kids. I think that’s all very wonderful. Thank you for what you’re doing.”
For more information about the Florence Police Department, visit ci.florence.or.us/police or read the department’s monthly newsletter at ci.florence.or.us/police/monthly-reports.