Two Ahwatukee high schools began their second school year of being without the aid of school resource officers after being denied state and federal funding, according to police officials.
Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools, which are in the Tempe Union High School District, but located in the Foothills, still do not have the funds to employ an SRO at each campus.
“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Phoenix Police Officer and former SRO Rick Tamburo said. “I feel like SROs are a fantastic tool for the schools. They can be such an asset to the school, district and community.”
Just two weeks ago, a 17-year-old brought a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic to Mountain Pointe High School. Fortunately, school officials got wind of the handgun and security staff separated the youth from other students and then removed the weapon.
In the past, however, it would have been an armed Phoenix Police Officer, assigned to the school as an SRO, who would have confronted the armed student.
The primary grant that was used to pay for SROs in the TUHSD was a three-year state grant through the Arizona Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. According to TUHSD spokeswoman Linda Littell, the district lost out after the process became more competitive.
MPHS Principal Bruce Kipper said after the grant was first denied in the spring of 2008, an appeal was submitted that August but was denied a month later.
However, only Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista ended up having to go another year without SROs, since the city of Tempe recently made an arrangement for Tempe to foot the nearly $100,000 bill to employ each officer, according to Phoenix Police and TUHSD officials.
Through the city of Phoenix, the school resource officers are paid for by the school district paying 75 percent of the costs and the municipality paying the remainder, said Sgt. Dalin Webb, Phoenix’s SRO coordinator.
Since Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are without SROs again and won’t be able to reapply for the “Safe Schools” grant until the spring of 2011, the Phoenix Police Department is doing its best to keep the schools running smoothly by expanding the role of community action officers.
Tamburo, who is now a community action officer, is one of the police officials that act as a liaison between the police department and the high schools, although it doesn’t compare to having an officer on campus on a daily basis.
“I’ll be honest, it’s just not the same,” Tamburo said. “The police department is doing a fantastic job with adapting to the situation, but it’d be great to get those SROs back.”
Some frequent criminal acts that SROs typically deal with include assaults, drug and alcohol possession, sexual misconduct, weapons violations, theft and property damage. However, not only do SROs act as an on-site officer to prevent crime, but they play a variety of roles as well, including being a teacher, administrator, mediator, counselor and friend, Tamburo said.
Both Webb and Tamburo agreed that one of the key benefits to having SROs at the local high schools was that they could become extremely familiar with the kids and the surrounding community.
“I truly believe that SROs are role models to these kids,” Webb said. “Most of the time kids only see police officers in bad situations, but this way we built a rapport with them.”
Police and school officials say that it is truly unfortunate that there aren’t adequate funds to supply SROs at all of the high schools, since the advantages are endless.
“The benefits of the program are not only for the school, but for the community,” Principal Kipper said. “That’s the bigger picture that people aren’t getting, how it can be a benefit to the community, especially a close-knit one like Ahwatukee.”
Stephanie Snyder is interning this semester at AFN. She attends ASU.