The Tohono O’odham Nation has a growing problem with drugs at schools, and it plans to address the problem by adding more on-site police officers.
The tribe won a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services program.
The nation will match the grant to pay the salaries and benefits for three new entry-level officers who will spend most of their time in schools.
The new officers will build on the Police Department’s five-year-old School Resource Officer program.
The department currently has five officers who spend about a third of their time in schools. They provide drug-abuse and violence-prevention programs and help teachers with mediation and intervention.
The new officers will take the existing program to more schools, develop new community-justice and conflict-resolution programs, and help change school policies to address crime.
“This effective effort continues to allow the officers and youth build trusting relationships and create a positive attitude towards a police officer in the community,” police leaders said in a grant application.
The department was chosen for the grant based on financial need, local crime rates and community policing plans.
“The major problem faced among the schools is drugs,” the grant application says.
An average of 34 arrests for drugs are made each year at Tohono O’odham schools, the application says.
Students who are caught with drugs at school are arrested and expelled. Often they can’t enroll in other schools, so they drop out.
About 2,250 students attend the 13 schools serving the reservation.
School resource officers have three roles: law enforcement, teaching and counseling, said Scottsdale Police Detective Rob Katzaroff, who is president of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association.
The officers become members of the school community and have better insight into which drugs are a problem, where they’re being used, where they’re coming from and what kind of help students and their families need, he said. They can also help school staff members and parents learn the signs and symptoms of drug abuse, he added.
Associate professor Michael Polakowski, who directs the Rombach Institute of Crime, Delinquency and Corrections at the University of Arizona, said an effective school-resource-officer program has a well-defined mission, school leaders who are on board, and a drug-abuse prevention program that follows best practices.
School-resource officers can connect with students in ways that patrol officers can’t, he said.
“The more interaction the officers have with them — pep rallies, classrooms, sport activities — they become a part of the community there,” Polakowski said. “And that’s a great thing for local law enforcement, because there’s always a point of contact.”
The officers become the main contact for students who need help, too, sometimes even after the students graduate, he said.