Sep 302011

By Teri Walker–

For several years, students at Holbrook High School and Holbrook Junior High School have been used to having a Holbrook police officer on campus, greeting them by name and regularly talking with them about issues of concern for teens and the community.

This year, the Holbrook Unified School District lost grant funding that covered much of the cost of having a school resource officer (SRO) in the schools, putting the district at risk of losing the SRO program.

“The number one major requirement of our school district is to provide a safe, orderly and stable environment for our students,” said HHS Principal Lance Phaturos. “Having the proximity of a school resource officer and being able to handle issues in real time supports that environment.”

Police Chief Mark Jackson and city leaders agree the program is a valuable one, which is why the City of Holbrook has agreed to pick up a greater portion of the cost of SRO Everett Olson’s salary for the next year.

Olson has served as SRO at HHS and HJHS since 2009. He is assigned full-time to the schools while school is in session, and works as a regular city police officer when schools are closed for holiday breaks. His salary and associated benefits cost the city about $60,000 per year, of which the school district has usually paid about $44,000, with the city covering the remaining cost.

When the news came down that the SRO grant funding was no longer available, district, city and police representatives determined the benefits of having a police officer in the schools merited finding a way to keep the program in place.

The school district has agreed to pay $22,000 of Officer Olson’s costs, with the city paying the remainder. Both entities are drawing the money from their general funds.

“This is a great preventative measure,” said Mayor Jeff Hill, referring to the SRO program. “It gets children in earlier grades comfortable with law enforcement.”

Speaking of Olson, Councilman Phil Cobb said, “I’ve seen him at school and he has a great rapport with the students.”

The SRO grant requirements restricted Olson’s presence to the high school and junior high. With the city and school district now providing all of the funding, the district is free to have Olson participate at elementary schools, as well.

“It’s never too early to educate kids on drug and alcohol awareness,” said Olson. “At junior high is when the peer pressure really starts. If we’ve already been talking to kids about the repercussions of breaking the law and of drugs and alcohol–both the legal and social repercussions–it really helps them in facing that peer pressure.”

Both Phaturos and Olson speak of the value of students seeing the human side of law enforcement.

“So often, kids’ only experience with law enforcement is when the police show up at their house because of domestic violence or some other crime,” said Olson. “Talking with the kids, going with the running club or playing basketball during open gym helps students see I’m a human just like them and makes them more comfortable with law enforcement.”

Phaturos feels this level of comfort helps prevent law enforcement issues with students.

“This program allows an officer to establish close relationships with students at a personal level,” said Phaturos. “I think he does more counseling with students than actual law enforcement, and that’s a positive thing.”

“(School Superintendent) Robbie Koerperich and I agree Holbrook needs this program,” said Police Chief Mark Jackson.

The city council voted unanimously to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the school district to increase the city’s contribution toward the cost of funding the SRO position.

Photo by Teri Walker

Officer Everett Olson is the School Resource Officer for the Holbrook Unified School District. He joined the Holbrook Police Department in May 2008.