— By SALLY SEXTON
The Weatherford Independent School District takes prides in its relationship with the surrounding community.
One of those partnerships, between the district and the Weatherford Police Department has been ongoing for more than 18 years — the School Resource Officer program.
SROs, who have backgrounds as police officers, work closely with campus administrators and staff, providing safety and security as well as education. Weatherford ISD had previously had three SROs, with one staying at the high schools and the other two rotating through the other 10 campuses as needed.
Last month, the Weatherford City Council agreed to enter into a new contract with the district, requiring the city to provide four SROs. The present contract requires one-half of the salary and benefits, up to $132,000, to be paid by the city on a quarterly basis. The new contract requires one-half of salary and benefits for four officers, up to $160,000, to be paid by the city on a quarterly basis. The fourth SRO began work Sept. 1.
“As a police officer, you’re actively seeking out a bad guy, making arrests, that sort of thing, and we do that, but we’re also mentors and educators. That’s really where we focus most of our energy,” Cpl. Todd Raymond, one of the school district’s SROs, said. “We really have the same goals as the teachers, principals and even parents. We understand that kids make mistakes and do things without even thinking about it.”
Part of the education process includes speaking with students in classrooms about character building, drugs, alcohol, the dangers of texting and driving and making good decisions, among other things.
Police officers must complete an application to become a school resource officer. Sgt. David Foreman, who heads up the program, said they look for officers with experience in different situations. Applicants must also go through a presentation in front of Foreman and district staff.
“This SRO program is very attractive to veteran officers that want to give back,” he said. “I was an SRO until about two years ago and it’s one of the most rewarding and best jobs I’ve ever had.
“It’s one of those few places where you can guide and mentor and actually see the difference.”
Raymond, who had previously served as a sergeant with WPD, originally applied to be an SRO for the hours. That was 10 years ago. Now, he says one of the best things about the job is the relationships built between students and officers.
“There are some kids that were in elementary when I was doing ‘Stranger Danger’ talks and they come up and tell me, ‘I remember you,’” he said. “When you’re working with the kids, you’re able to experience that.”
In terms of discipline and safety, if a situation arises at any of the WISD campuses, SROs are known as the last resort. Initially, the district will do an investigation of the incident, alongside the SRO and the parents, and try to come up with the best decision.
“The principals and the teachers and the parents know the kids better than we do,” Raymond said. “Even if it’s a criminal offense, we don’t always file charges unless there is a victim who wants to press charges, of course.
“If the school can handle it through administrative discipline and everyone’s OK with that, that’s what we want to have happen.”
To learn more about WISD’s school resource officers, visit the campus police link on www.weatherfordisd.com.