The Salt River Police Department (SRPD) is spotlighting its School Resource Officer Program this month as a way to increase awareness about the individual divisions within the department.
The SRPD School Resource Officers (SROs) are Off. Anslem Flores, who is stationed at Salt River High School; Off. Julian Owens, who is stationed at Salt River Elementary School and the Early Childhood Education Center; and the SRO supervisor, Sgt. John Christakis. The SROs cover all the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community schools: the Early Childhood Education Center, Salt River Elementary School, Salt River High School and Salt River Accelerated Learning Academy.
The SRO Program is a nationally and internationally recognized program in which certified law-enforcement officers are placed within schools. The partnership between the school district and the law-enforcement agency allows the SRO to work closely with the school administration to provide a safe learning environment, law-related education and the expertise of a trained law-enforcement officer on campus.
But the SRO Program is more than simply placing a law-enforcement officer in the school and hoping that all problems related to school safety will be solved. The SRO needs to become a regular part of the school community, viewed and treated like another faculty member. Only then will the school truly benefit from the many opportunities having a SRO can bring.
The SRO is not a disciplinarian, but serves as a counselor, mediator and instructor when called upon.
“As a School Resource Officer, we wear three hats: we are an unofficial counselor to the students; we teach law-enforcement instruction, such as the G.R.E.A.T. Program (Gang Resistance Education and Training); and [we also serve as] police officers,” said Owens, who just started his second year as a SRO.
For the SRO to hand out suspensions and/or detentions would be like the school principal making arrests. This is strictly a responsibility for school administrators and should remain as such, so as not to not confuse the role of the SRO as a law-enforcement officer. This is not to say that the SRO cannot enforce school rules, however; as a regular member of the faculty, enforcing school rules and following school procedures is a vital responsibility of the SRO.
“We’re here to let them know it’s all about life choices. I like to think that we’re successful,” said Flores. “Building relationships, taking on criminal incidents at the school—it’s our job to make the school safer. [Through our presence] there is deterrence and awareness. [We] try to do our job in being proactive in prevention.”
This summer, the SROs attended the G.R.E.A.T. Program so they can teach Community students the curriculum on social skills and tools that they can use to avoid gangs. The curriculum is for the elementary and junior high students.
“We assist a lot with the counselors. I [present] training for the school staff for Child Protective Services (CPS) procedures, in the event there is sexual abuse, allegations if a child has unexplainable injuries, or if they have concerns about neglect,” said Owens. “I work with the counselors or the teachers on making sure they get the services to coordinate with CPS to make sure those types of cases move forward.”
Sgt. Christakis is the supervisor of the SROs and a liaison with the teachers and principals; he works with them on any issue that arises with the SRO Program.
When asked what the best part of being an SRO is, Flores said, “Being involved with [the students’] successes and being a part of the [school] staff, and aspects of the Community that are dedicated to the kids. I’m part of helping the youth with the challenges that they face every day, no matter what they may be, and helping with that. There are a lot of people in the Community that are dedicated to [improving the lives of] the youth.”
SRO Program Goals
The goals of the School Resource Officer Program at the Salt River Police Department are:
• Bridge the gap between law-enforcement officers and students and increase positive attitudes toward law enforcement.
• Teach the value of our legal system.
• Promote respect for people and property.
• Reduce juvenile crime by helping students formulate an awareness of rules, authority and justice.
• Take a personal interest in students and their activities.
• Give students a realistic picture of local laws and the legal system.
• Teach students how to avoid becoming victims of crime.
• Teach crime prevention.