How many resource officers does Douglas County need?

SROs increasingly at center of school-safety conversation


Three weeks after the May 7 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting, Douglas County rolled out a plan it says could provide 48 more school resource officers to local campuses in the next three years, bringing the total from 13 to 61.

The county has pledged $3 million a year to support the SROs, but the money is contingent on a 50% match from schools in the county. Whether it receives the match remains to be seen, but the proposal has spurred conversation about the number of SROs needed in a county with 68,000 students in public schools and an estimated 3,000 in private schools.

“It’s kind of a difficult number because these things change constantly,” said Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth, noting new schools open and enrollments fluctuate.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has emphasized its belief in the SRO program. Resource officers provide more than basic security, say officials, including Nicholson-Kluth and Lt. Lori Bronner, spokeswoman for the county’s SRO program.

Resource officers investigate threats, thwart planned violence before it occurs and build relationships between students and law enforcement, Nicholson-Kluth said. They are mentors, parent figures, coaches and resources for teachers, administrators and parents. The officers also watch out for mental health issues among students and connect them with help if needed.

“We believe that putting officers in schools acts as a prevention of violence,” Nicholson-Kluth said. “We feel that an SRO is not just an armed guard waiting for some type of attack.”

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said the previous school of thought was to place one SRO for every 1,000 students, but the organization now recommends schools take individual factors into consideration. That could include a building’s location, campus size and culture.

Most of Douglas County’s nine traditional high schools have at least 1,500 students, some more than 2,000. There is an SRO assigned to each of those high schools, but the resource officer also oversees the high school’s feeder middle school.

Nicholson-Kluth said the sheriff’s office would like to reach a ratio of at least one SRO per 1,000 students. Following the May 28 meeting, she wouldn’t comment on the commissioners’ proposal of 61 SROs. But she did say the sheriff’s office hopes to see at least 11 to 16 more SROs in the next year.

The sheriff’s office began actively recruiting for those positions following the May 28 board of commissioners’ meeting and hope to fill most by the 2019-20 school year. That would allow every high school and middle school its own SRO.

If the county does fulfill its vision of 61 SROs, Nicholson-Kluth said that could enable the sheriff’s office to begin a broader sharing program that places SROs at the elementary school level.

She also hopes other law enforcement agencies in the county would help provide some of the additional officers. At present, the Castle Rock Police Department provides two SROs and the Parker Police Department two. Each are considering adding more. 

A spokesman for the Lone Tree Police Department said there is one high school — Eagle Academy High School — in the department's jurisdiction, and they would consider adding an SRO to cover that school if the school district asks. They do not currently provide any SROs to schools in the county. 

Roger Partridge, chairman of the board of county commissioners, said the county’s finance director determined funds were available for 61 SROs. Commissioners also kept in mind the number of schools — 91 — in the Douglas County School District.

“Our focus was to get as close to that number in terms of SRO coverage as possible,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said.

Laydon told Colorado Community Media the board hopes the 11 to 16 SROs the sheriff's office is recruiting will be funded by the $3 million it is offering local schools. But with a match not yet provided, that funding source remains unclear. 

Commissioner Lora Thomas, a former member of the Colorado State Patrol, said the board is also open to ideas other than SROs, which can be costly.

“Having hired law enforcement people in the past,” Thomas said, “I know how hard it is and how expensive it is.”

This story has been updated  to reflect new information on the number of SROs in Douglas County.


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