School officer program seen as success | AspenTimes.com

School officer program seen as success

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Dean Everding is a cop with the Basalt Police Department. He’s got a badge, a gun and the training needed to put bad guys in the clink.

But Everding is a little different than most cops, because his desk is at Basalt High School. He teaches a class called Life Skills, and is a regular guest speaker in a number of other classes, including the standard course on government and a popular elective called “Street Law.”

In fact, his full-time beat for the past two years, at least from from September through early June, is school resource officer at Basalt High. And Principal James Waddick has no doubt about the importance of Officer Everding’s presence on his campus.

One statistic that illustrates the Everding Effect has to do with fighting. The number of fights between students fell from 33 in the 1999-2000 school year, just before Everding arrived, to six last year and three this year.

Waddick said Everding has something else that makes him different from most cops: There is an enormous amount of trust between him and the students.

As an example, Waddick pointed to one case involving a student on the verge of dropping out – until Everding intervened.

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“Her instructors said it seemed like she had lost interest in school and was ready to leave,” Waddick recalled.

Everding began talking to her and then asked her to join him at work one day. She shadowed him as he made his rounds in the school and in the surrounding neighborhood. Over the next several weeks, she rode in his patrol car, learned about warrants, citations and other police procedures. She was on hand as suspects were photographed and fingerprinted at police headquarters.

The student was even allowed to hit the lights and write up a ticket.

“Now that girl wants to go into police work,” Waddick said. “She has really been drawn back into the school as a result of Dean Everding.”

But in spite of those and other successes, there are serious doubts whether a second officer will be hired to work full time in Basalt’s middle and elementary schools.

In fact, Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda’s effort to drum up financial support for a second school resource officer hasn’t gone as easily as one might expect.

Ikeda has been lobbying the Roaring Fork School District, Eagle County, Pitkin County and the town of Basalt in hopes they will agree to split the $82,000 annual cost of an additional school officer. But he has been told by two of the four jurisdictions – first Eagle County and more recently Pitkin County – that the money isn’t available.

“You know how Pitkin County has no money,” said County Commissioner Patti Clapper following Ikeda’s presentation at a work session last Tuesday.

“As with everyone else,” Ikeda answered.

And the town of Basalt, which has been supportive of Everding and appears ready to help pay for a second officer, is nonetheless struggling to make ends meet. Basalt Trustee Anne Freedman recently said the town’s revenues have fallen by 14 percent.

The price tag of a second school resource officer would be eased for the first three years by a $125,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. But local governments would be required to pick up part of the tab in those first three years and all of it after the grant expires in 2006.

Ikeda said his department would not accept the grant unless local officials commit funding in advance.

Everding’s salary, benefits and training have been paid for out of the same three-year federal grant. In the 2000-01 school year, the grant paid $55,000 of the costs associated with Everding’s position. This year it paid $40,000 and next year the Justice Department grant will cover $30,000 of Everding’s salary. The town of Basalt has picked up the difference so far.

Ikeda’s request to Pitkin County last week, as it has been for the other jurisdictions, was for a 25 percent share of the salaries of both school resource officers. Under Ikeda’s plan, each jurisdiction would pay $19,750 in 2003, $31,000 in 2004, $33,500 in 2005 and $41,000 in 2006, after the second Department of Justice grant expires.

“I’d like to fund this,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Shellie Roy. “But we’ll have to wait and see how our budget comes out.”

Commissioner Dorothea Farris said she, too, was interested in helping out, but wanted to make sure the various jurisdictions were paying their fair share. She asked Ikeda to bring back information breaking down where students in the school district reside and tabulating the percentage shares based on the percentage of students residing in each jurisdiction.

Farris, a former teacher, also wants a clearer picture about why Basaltines think they need a second officer in their schools.

She was unequivocal in her support for the school resource officer program. “But,” she added, “I think it’s really sad that we have to do this – that it’s come to putting police in the schools full time.”

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