By Beacon Staff
BELLE FOURCHE – The Belle Fourche School District will now have a full-time police officer on campus beginning after the first of the year. The city council unanimously approved the creation of the position within the Belle Fourche Police Department, known as a School Resource Officer (SRO), which will operate under a contractual agreement between the city of Belle Fourche and the school district beginning January 1st.
The SRO will spend most of their time rotating between the high school and middle school campuses and also spend time at the elementary schools. The primary role will be safety and security on campus but the position will also involve a role in classroom education, teaching students the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse.
“If he or she does the job right, they will be the most popular officer in the city of Belle Fourche,” Police Chief Marlyn Pomrenke told the Beacon. “Their top priority will be the security of the schools but I also want them to work on community education. We’re also looking at D.A.R.E. as well as ABC.”
Pomrenke says the SRO will also work with the school district on truancy issues and he says the department will probably see an increase with service calls for the school. Part of that increase, he says, will come with an expected increase in child abuse cases and more sexual assault cases, not because of an increase in crime but an increase in the discovery of existing situations. The SRO will be trained to see the signs of abuse as the child brings these issues from home to the schools.
“As things go on, the young students will get to know the officer. Any potential victim will be more inclined to talk to an officer they get to know,” Pomrenke said. “When they see the officer there every day with them on the playground, helping them through fire drills and lock down drills, they’re going to get to know that officer. It can be scary for a child to talk to a police officer for the first time, especially one they don’t know.”
The challenge will be starting the program in mid-year, according to Pomrenke. He says that the schools already have education program curriculum established for the year and while they will work with the education component, he expects the SRO will establish themselves with the emphasis on security, crime suppression and dealing with drug issues.
Last February the Belle Fourche High School Youth Leadership Team (YLT) presented to the school board programs on which they had been working. In one of those programs the students identified the need for a School Resource Officer due to several issues including the use of marijuana at the high school campus, particularly in the school parking lot during the lunch hour. An police office on campus, YLT said, could at best prevent or at the least deter the illegal underage use of the drug.
“The students within the high school requested this so it is really going to be supported by the children,” said Dr. Steve Willard, Belle Fourche Superintendent.
The school board and school administration advanced the idea as COVID funding became available. The district will pay for 9-months of the SRO’s salary while the city will pay the other three months during the summer. In the summer months the SRO will assist the Belle Fourche Police Department with investigative and other work. The SRO position is funded through May of 2024 when the pandemic money runs out. After that it will be up to the district and the city to determine if the position is worth maintaining.
“I think a lot of that will depend on how well the officer does and much the school values them,” Pomrenke said.
The police department will provide the vehicle and equipment that the SRO needs to perform his or her duties. Pomrenke says they will be looking to promote from within for the SRO position and the council also agreed to fund an additional police officer to take the place of the SRO.
Among the duties outlined in the job description is the provision that the SRO coordinate law enforcement coverage for extracurricular activities, provide a presence that sends a strong message that violence and negative behaviors are not acceptable, meet regularly with school officials, serve as a primary responder to school-related calls for service and investigations, and perform general police department work duties.