The Tacoma Schools Board of Directors approved a new contract with the Tacoma Police Department that would pay for two, specially trained School Liaison Officers dedicated to support safety needs at all Tacoma schools.
The contract culminates several months of negotiations between the district and the police department.
The agreement marks a key milestone in development of a comprehensive new district Safety and Security plan presented to the School Board in July.
The new contract with the Police Department calls for safety support far different than the previous, School Resource Officer program that expired in August. In the past, Tacoma police officers were assigned—one each to each of five Tacoma comprehensive high schools—to serve full-time on site.
Instead, the School Liaison Officers will partner with schools district-wide and report first to calls for service at district locations during school days. The School Liaison Officers will not address student discipline; the primary responsibility for maintaining a positive school climate continues to reside with school principals and school staff. The School Liaison Officers will be specially trained to work with the diverse needs of the district’s students.
In July, when Superintendent on Special Assignment Carla Santorno presented the comprehensive Safety and Security Plan, she noted a new arrangement with the police department would play a key role but in a different way.
“Last year, two significant incidents came to light in which police officers used excessive force,” Santorno said in July. “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 in 2021, 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 other recommendations, made to the School Board in July included:
1. 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 poised to respond to on-campus student 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
2. 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.
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.
“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.”
The agreement with TPD also establishes a Student Advisory Board that will work with the School Liaison Officers to help ensure student voice and needs are heard and addressed.
Under the agreement with the Tacoma Police Department, the district will reimburse the Tacoma Police Department a portion of the cost for the two School Liaison Officers and a supervising sergeant once police staff support is in place, expected in the first quarter 2022.
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