Over the past few months leading up to the suspension of school resource officers, Ames Police Commander Jason Tuttle could see that the department’s and the school board’s view of public safety were splitting apart.
“We feel that the school resource officers build relationships and help solve problems in the schools and unfortunately we were being used more and more over the last year as more of a reactor response in schools,” said Tuttle on SRO’s just being used as response teams.
The Commander expressed that such a change of tactics took away from the relationship-building aspect and other collaborative activities between students and officers.
It was apparent that the newly founded “Equity” committee working in conjunction with The Ames School Board was actively pushing for fewer and fewer interactions between students and juvenile trained officers over the past year.
“Now we’re going to have patrol officers who have no idea who these students are, they don’t have a relationship with students, parents, or the building administrators per se, and so they’re going to be responding to calls up there not knowing the background of many of these situations, so that’s definitely one thing that’s a concern to us,” said Tuttle.
“Their benefit is that they know the kids that are having issues in the schools, they know their parents and they know their backgrounds,” said Tuttle, emphasizing how Ames SRO’s would actively touch base with those students struggling by conducting meetings with administrators and conducting other means to aid said student.
Commander Tuttle noted the “wrap-around care” that an Ames school resource officer provided for a student. For example, if an issue arose, officers would often reach out to the student’s family to check-in and connect them with local mental health services.
Up until the suspension, Officers would actively reach out to local mental health advocate Julie Saxton to bridge the gap for a student’s family who needed desperate care.
Tuttle recalled instances where officers would see a domestic violence incident occur on a police log during after-school hours, causing officers to alert guidance counselors in the school district to get the help the student needed to deal with their traumatic experience.
That connection will no longer exist.
According to Tuttle, officers will now have a slower response time of 4-5 minutes to get to the schools if an issue arises in which any situation could escalate even more.
Just over a year ago, the Ames Community district asked the PD for a second resource officer to help respond to school calls but suddenly backtracked under recommendations by the school’s Equity committee directed by Dr. Anthony Jones.
The committee and Jones sparked outrage when they announced The Ames School District’s Black Lives Matter Week, where coloring books and other materials were provided by Black Lives Matter at School Coalition and D.C Area Educators For Racial Justice.
“It’s so key that they know many of these students that are having issues in the schools, they often times have a previous relationship with them so they know what their triggers are, they know what their home life’s about so it’s going to be more difficult for our patrol officers to go into that situation cold not having any information to try and work through those issues,” said Tuttle, explaining how SRO’s easily clamped down on situations by de-escalating an issue immediately.
Since Ames patrol officers have other calls and duties to fulfill in the community, not one officer can be given the assignment of only responding to school calls.
Before the suspension, one SRO was positioned in The Ames Middle School, where the other would be in the high school. For the elementary schools in the district, each officer would be in charge of 3-4 schools.
One SRO will remain in the Ames Middle School until the end of the school year, as per the school contract with The Ames Police Department.