GFPD, GFPS provide annual SRO report to school board
The Great Falls Police Department presented its annual school resource officer program report to the Great Falls Public Schools board during their Oct. 12 meeting.
Capt. Jeff Newton said the GFPD and GFPS have partnered for 23 years on the SRO program that currently includes four officers and a supervisor, all of whom are detectives.
Newton said early on, the agencies didn’t as much emphasis on the selection process for SROs, but now it’s a more involved process that include five-person selection panel with three people from GFPS and two from GFPD.
“It’s important to have the right person in the right place,” Newton said.
Newton said that during the 2019-2020 school year, SROs handled 406 complaints, which was down from 660 the previous year. He said that the term complaint is used, but includes a wide variety of interactions from minor incidents to more serious situations.
He said that during the last school year, SROs conducted 369 hours of coaching and mentoring with 1,058 students and that 91.3 of those students did not enter the juvenile justice system or require the formal diversion program.
Completion of the diversion program was also down a bit last year, he said, with 30 entering the program and 22 successfully completing the program. Newton said that was primarily due to COVID-19 that those students did have the opportunity to complete the program, but he was confident that most of them would have been successful.
The SROs provide education and last year did 91 classroom presentations, addressing topics such as cyberbulling, social media, assault, harassment, healthy relationships and positive conflict resolution.
They also conducted 26 home visits to check the welfare of students and families and deal with truancies, Newton said.
He said officers aren’t just issuing truancy citations but are communicating with teachers and families and looking out for mental health issues or other needs.
SROs also work with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, deal with children in crisis such as suicidal students, threats against schools and traumatic incidents, among other additional duties, Newton said.
The four SROs in the schools work to build relationships with students, Newton said, and “often students will seek out SROs before they’ll talk to anyone else because they feel comfortable with the SROs.”
He said the SROs, GFPD and GFPS are aware of the issues raised over the summer after an ACLU report suggested that minority students were being disciplined at higher rates than their peers.
“We continually work to improve,” he said.
Superintendent Tom Moore said that this year in particular, the district is focusing on racial equity.
Moore said that a group of district leaders and others met over the summer to address issues in the ACLU report and to create an action plan that would be implemented this school year. He
Moore said that the district will focus on analyzing data on interactions with SROs based on race/ethnicity, gender, age, frequency and based on that make recommendations for changes in practice and protocols regarding the roles and responsibilities of SROs.
He said other goals include developing a student advisory panel on diversity and equity in schools; and to adopt and implement training on restorative justice and other alternative discipline models to reduce exclusion of students from learning.
Erin Butts, GFPS’ student mental health coordinator, said that the district has a prevention specialist that works on tobacco, vaping, armed intruder training, employee wellness and emergency response plans.
Butts said that the district has a program, known as Prime for Life, for students who violate school code regarding drugs/alcohol and that there were 32 students in that program last school year; as well as a tobacco education group for students who violate school code on nicotine. That program had 87 students last school year, she said.
She said they use the data from the annual youth risk behavior survey and from 2015 to 2019, there were spikes in several areas, including suicide.
Butts said that “weighs heavily on us.”
The district has updated its suicide screener and handbook, as well as updated their safety plan to include more intentional ways to intervene to prevent suicide.
They also use a behavioral management threat assessment and the district work group includes an SRO. She said they also conduct ongoing training for district staff as well as new staff, plus regional training in which schools throughout the area are training on the GFPS document.
Butts said they’re also working to establish a mental health work group with community partners to close resource and service gaps as well as improve communication.