District 51 to hire security team
Local schools aren’t getting more school resource officers. But they are getting something close to help boost school safety.
School District 51 is hiring security officers who will be armed, trained and in uniform like law enforcement officers but will not have the power to arrest anyone.
The district is accepting applications through Friday for the new job. District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon said he hopes to have interviews, background checks, and other screenings complete within a few weeks and extend job offers in mid-March.
The district will start with two security officers this spring, with one based at East and Orchard Mesa middle schools and another based at West and Bookcliff middle schools. Leon said those schools were picked because the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office’s four school resource officers and the one-and-a-half Fruita Police Department school resource officers are able to provide more coverage in their middle schools than the three school resource officers with the Grand Junction Police Department.
Middle schools in particular were picked, Leon said, because the security officers will be able to handle the disciplinary issues common at middle schools while school resource officers concentrate on high schools, where disciplinary issues are more likely to coincide with criminal instances.
“We’re not replacing school resource officers. They’re critical to what we do. This is just adding more support for that,” Leon said.
The district hopes to eventually have one security officer in all eight district middle schools, depending on budget. The district’s insurance fund will pay for the officers, who will make between $18 and $19.75 an hour. The insurance fund is used for risk management services in the district and gets revenue from interest on investments and transfers from the district’s general fund.
The fund also will pay for serious job candidates to go through psychological testing, background checks and a polygraph test. Leon said the tests can cost between $400 and $500 per person and are in line with standards law enforcement agencies use to hire their officers.
Security officer candidates will have to be Peace Officer Standards and Training Board-certified and must have worked in law enforcement within the last two years. The two-year maximum for time away from duty was established because POST certification expires after three years of inactive service and, Leon said, those candidates are more likely to know the most up-to-date strategies for handling emergencies like a school shooter.
“School safety training is constantly changing. If you’re out (of law enforcement) for a while, your shooting skills, training, all those things diminish,” Leon said.
Training will continue for security officers after they are hired. They will be expected to complete 40 hours of in-house training and Mesa County Sheriff’s Office-supplied training in firearms, active shooter and arrest control tactics each year.
Leon said arming officers with a law enforcement background is preferable to options other districts have adopted, such as having principals handle security, because highly trained officers are better equipped to handle a stressful incident like a school shooting or similar threat. Leon said the district decided to hire security officers because of recent incidents like school shootings and because a citizen school security and safety work group assembled a year ago recommended the district either get more school resource officers or research having armed people in schools, but only if they had the highest standard of training.
Having a uniformed presence in school makes the officers “highly visible” for students, Leon said. Security officers will focus on addressing safety needs of school staff and administration as well as building relationships with students so they feel comfortable reporting information to them.