TPS considers new Safety and Security plan

After months of studying the issue and hearing from a broad group of the Tacoma community,  parents, staff and students, the Tacoma School District is considering a new Safety and Security Plan that includes police officer on-call support if needed for the most difficult situations district-wide—rather than base police officers at high schools as in the past.  

 “Last year, two significant incidents came to light in which police officers used excessive force,” said Superintendent on Special Assignment Carla Santorno. “As a result, a number of Tacoma community members began advocating for the removal of the five Tacoma Police Officers we had stationed in our five comprehensive high schools. Because of COVID-19, we had no students in our schools, which gave us time to take a thoughtful look at the situation.”

Earlier this year, the School Board directed Santorno to examine the district’s entire safety and security system rather than focus solely on the longstanding contract with the Tacoma Police Department for high school-based police officers. Board members asked for a comprehensive recommendation. 

Santorno’s recommendations, made to the School Board Thursday evening, include:

  1. Work with the Tacoma Police Department on an agreement for law enforcement support with up to two police officers who would not be assigned at schools but instead be available as “school liaisons” with mobile response available to district principals and departments to respond, consult and help settle difficult situations when needed.
  2. The current five district-employed School Patrol Officers (SPOs)—who wear police-like uniforms and drive marked patrol cars—would be replaced by mobile campus support specialists and Campus Safety Officers II (CSOs). These positions, which do not currently exist, would be the first to respond to on-campus conduct that may have a safety or security element. These specially trained staff members will be a part of the District’s safety and student behavioral support continuum, acting as “first responders” that work closely with other District staff.
  3. The current 25 Campus Safety Officers will continue to be a resource at high schools and middle schools to provide safety support to students and staff and respond promptly to situations before they escalate.  

“Listening to the community and soliciting feedback have been key steps in the development of these recommended improvements,” Santorno said. “We prioritized gathering input from all of our stakeholders about safety and security, which included staff, teachers, the community and of course our students and their families.”

“Throughout this process,” Santorno said, “we remained committed to ensuring our high school and other students feel safe and secure at school so it is a positive learning environment with safety and security of students and staff as our highest priority.”

No action was taken or immediately necessary. The recommendation involving Tacoma police support involves ongoing collaboration the Tacoma Police Department. The district seeks to have a revised contract in place for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

Meanwhile, the recommendation about the new internal district safety positions requires labor negotiations with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, which represents internal district security staff.

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