Sheriff wants to add deputy to serve as resource officer in Steamboat schools
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the cost of the school resource deputy.
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins is asking to have one of his deputies serve as a resource officer in two schools in the Steamboat Springs School District for the next school year rather than an officer from the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
Because the schools in question — Steamboat Springs Middle School and the new Sleeping Giant School — are not within city limits, the officer has needed to be deputized by Wiggins in the past. Now, Wiggins said he would be more comfortable if one of his deputies served in this role.
“If we are going to have law enforcement officers in schools that are in my jurisdiction, my preference would be that it is one of my deputies that would provide that service,” Wiggins said during a Routt County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
Previously, school resource officers have been provided by the Steamboat Springs Police Department and paid for by the city. Wiggins said there has generally been a spoken agreement between the two organizations allowing police officers to serve in these roles in the county, but he said he no longer thinks these types of agreements are a good idea.
Now, the city has asked the district to shoulder some of the burden to fund these officer positions, and the district has agreed to split the salary of the officer equally. Wiggins said he has deputies on his staff certified to serve as a resource officer, but he would still need to add a deputy to his force.
The cost of the deputy would be about $102,000 in the first year including the purchase of a used patrol vehicle, about $40,000 of which would be paid by the district. After the first year the cost is the salary of the officer which can range between $75,000 and $90,000, with the county picking up the cost not covered by the districts contribution.
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said he would prefer to work this out without requiring agreements with multiple law enforcement agencies to keep things simpler for the district.
Commissioner Tim Redmond questioned how these officers would work together since they are not in the same organization, but Wiggins emphasized that many of their policies are the same, and the two organizations work well together already.
“Those individuals, because they are in the schools, they are going to work together, whether it is on their own or by demand from the chief and the sheriff,” Wiggins said. “They are going to work hand in hand, because they are going to be dealing with some of the same kids, whether they are at the middle school or the high school.”
School resource officer programs are meant to create a safe environment in schools by building a rapport between students, staff and law enforcement. Wiggins said these positions are part of the Sheriff’s Office’s community policing programs aimed at building relationships where students don’t fear the police.
Commissioner Beth Melton questioned the county spending this money on the Steamboat school district when they don’t make similar expenditures for other districts in the country.
“I understand the concerns of the sheriff,” Melton said. “I understand it is a less preferable option to have the city of Steamboat Springs fill this position. I have a hard time justifying to myself why Routt County should provide this funding.”
Redmond said he wanted to make sure that if he voted to approve the funding for this officer, minority students would be treated with the same respect as white students.
“A lot of times minority students wind up being criminalized,” Redmond said, sharing a story about his son’s experience with law enforcement in school.
“I don’t care what color your skin is, I don’t care where you came from, I don’t care your gender, I don’t care about any of that,” Wiggins said. “Even if you are a criminal, and you’re a known criminal, we always treat you with dignity and respect.”
Redmond said he was looking for some sort of check and balance on this role, potentially with a yearly review. Meeks explained it is not the officer’s responsibility to discipline students, and he would intervene if the district was not satisfied with the deputy’s conduct.
“Unless there is some crime committed, that is still a principal’s job,” Meeks said.
Wiggins said his department has never had an issue with deputies being racist or treating people of color differently than whites while he has been sheriff. He added that about a quarter of his staff are people of color, and his office spends about three months on the background check process to ensure any candidates with racist tendencies are removed from consideration.
Commissioners delayed a decision on whether to approve the new position to an upcoming meeting. Meeks said he would ideally have someone in this role by the middle of August, but it is more important to hire the right person.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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