Serving our schools: Does Rocklin need more cops on campus?

Two assigned to high schools, cuts eliminated middle school officer
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting tragedy, school security is at the top of minds across the country, including in Rocklin.

“It’s a little bit scary with what’s been happening, but I feel safe here,” said Whitney High School senior Sarah Debeny.

Debeny knows her school is protected by a Rocklin police officer on campus. Rocklin and Whitney high schools are in an elite group, as only a third of public schools nationwide reportedly have armed guards on campus. For the Rocklin Police Department, the youth services officer is much more than that.

“A lot of what I do is really counseling, more than anything,” said Rocklin Police Youth Services Officer Elizabeth Davis. “Kids have questions and concerns – I’d like to be there as a resource that they can come and talk to me. That’s why we’re there.”

Davis is assigned to Whitney High School and Officer Kyle Hollis is assigned to Rocklin High School. For Davis, being able to guide children through an important time in their life and how that connects with the community is why she joined the force.

“I’ve enjoyed being there and making a difference,” she said.

Davis said she sees truancy issues, bullying, sexting and some drug abuse more than anything, including violence. While data for schools is not available, Rocklin police report a 15 percent decrease in violent crime for the whole city from this time last year.

Davis’ supervisor, Sgt. Forrest Richardson, said Rocklin has great schools, but having an officer there makes all the difference.

“That’s one of the reasons we don’t have a lot of school violence,” Richardson said. “The two of them know more and gain more information than patrol (officers) would in a lifetime.”

As some have called for more gun control, the National Rifle Association announced Friday schools need more armed security. While two armed guard stationed at Columbine High School did not prevent the 1999 tragedy, some suggest that a police presence at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have made a difference, as the assailant there reportedly ended his rampage by taking his own life as officers approached him.

Rocklin youth service officers get special training that includes juvenile law and even lessons learned from Columbine.

“One of the things you think about is you are probably going to be one of the first people targeted, if possible, if there is a shooting,” Davis said. “It’s just one of those things. For me, it is worth it.”

Davis has a flexible schedule so she can work special school events and games after school. She said she’s developed a rapport with the students over the last two years of her assignment. Even though she admits it’s a lot of pressure, she wants to be the one to respond with the training she’s received.

“You know you’re going to be the one who responds and you are not going to have the SWAT (team) behind you and it is going to be you and you alone,” she said. “You are always going to be the first one there. It’s just one of the responsibilities.”

Davis is on the front line of any problem at schools, some of which are prevented by children reporting suspicious things to her.

“I feel like they are comfortable and can approach us,” she said. “We get that information and can do something.”

Funding for school officers is split between the city and Rocklin Unified School District. RUSD pays a flat fee of $50,000 per officer and Rocklin PD picks up the rest of the cost, according to school officials. Sierra College also contracts with Rocklin PD to have two full-time officers assigned to campus at a cost of $1,860 per day, according to the 2010 contract. Through the recession, Rocklin PD faced raise freezes, cuts, attrition and frozen positions, but always maintained the youth officers assigned to the high schools. However, in 2009, budget cuts eliminated the third youth officer assigned to Rocklin middle schools.

“Yes, we could always use more (officers),” Richardson said.

Longtime City Council member and former mayor George Magnuson said he believes with school funding improving, anything is possible.

“If the school district is interested, they would need to ask us,” he said. “It would be very expensive for them to put an officer in every school.”

RUSD Superintendent Kevin Brown said he will be meeting with Rocklin police after the new year to discuss the options.

“We are going to need to seek new revenue grants to find additional (youth service officers),” Brown said.

Brown said RUSD is committed to school safety.

“Their presence helps build relations with the kids and provides early intervention, valuable in-formation as to what’s going on in the school, community and, most importantly, added safety on campus,” he said. “We are looking at ways to provide this type of service to more of our campuses. It may be by off-duty officers volunteering, the police volunteer cadre or possibly parent patrols.”

Brown said if something can be put together, he’ll bring the measure before the Rocklin school board for discussion.