School security officers begin patrols
District's new hires to be 'highly visible' members of the community
If you visit East, West, Bookcliff or Orchard Mesa middle schools, Peter Schimek and Trent Oney want to be the first people in the building you see.
As the first two members of a likely-to-expand team of District 51 security officers, Oney and Schimek plan to be “highly visible” members of the school community.
Schimek and Oney’s duties will include getting to know students, parents and staff; discussing security concerns with school employees; looking for hazards; and patrolling buildings, particularly when students are in the hallways. Monday will be the first full day in those four schools, picked because District 51 high schools and middle schools in unincorporated Mesa County have more coverage from school resource officers.
District security officers can do anything a school resource officer can do, except make arrests. Schimek said he hopes to take some work off of school resource officers’ hands by defusing situations before they escalate at schools, whether that means talking down an angry parent yelling in a school office or mediating a situation between students before they can fight.
“We’re there to give a more secure feeling to faculty and students but we’re also there as ambassadors. We want to build better relationships with students, staff and parents so they feel safe to be” at school, he said.
The school district considered hiring security guards for years, according to District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon, but the idea gained traction after the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Leon said a school security and safety committee of citizens and district employees formed last year made it clear more school resource officers would be appreciated but, barring availability of extra law enforcement, highly trained security officers would be an appropriate addition to local schools.
To meet that “highly qualified” mandate, Leon decided to hire only people who had been law enforcement officers within the last two years, the longest a former officer can be off-duty before his or her peace officer certification expires. Continuing firearms, criminal control tactics, and active shooter response training will be part of the job.
“We felt this was the best way (to improve safety), to support law enforcement with our own highly qualified team,” Leon said.
Both Schimek and Oney served with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office before being hired as District 51’s inaugural security officers. Schimek left the Sheriff’s Office for the school district position because, he said, after 17 years in law enforcement, he wanted a change. Oney said he had left the Sheriff’s Office and was looking for a next step when the school security officer job became available. He said he looks forward to taking a proactive approach to school safety, particularly after Sandy Hook and similar events.
“I’m not going to say, yes, something like that is going to happen here, but we can minimize any effects of a potential risk,” Oney said.
Twenty-five people applied for the two security officer jobs. The list was whittled down to 15 serious applicants, who went through psychological and polygraph testing, an extensive background check and an interview process before being hired. Leon said he hopes to hire another two security officers in July if the school board approves a budget to pay for them. Schimek and Oney’s salaries are being supplied by the district’s insurance fund. Oney will make $30,423 and Schimek will make $31,276.