Two Kent Police officers will return to staff four schools under a contract approved by the City Council.
The council unanimously approved the agreement on Aug. 17. The Kent School Board will consider the contract at its Aug. 25 meeting. Both the council and school board must approve the agreement for the officers to return to the schools. The first day of school is Aug. 26.
Under the contract, the officers are known as school resource officers. The city and Kent School District have had the agreement for many years.
“The kids get a good experience with school resource officers,” Councilmember Bill Boyce said at an Aug. 10 Committee of the Whole meeting. “They (officers) are in front of things before they happen. …and they build up good relationships with (students). We provide a service to the schools, they asked for it, and on Aug. 25 at the board meeting they plan to adopt it. …from what I’m hearing it’s something the schools want to do.”
A protest last summer outside of Kent City Hall and the Police Station, however, had a different take on police officers at schools.
The group ForFortyTwo, named for the number of Kent schools, called at its August 2020 protest for school resource officers to be removed as part of a defund police movement.
Kent provides officers who split time among Kentridge and Kent-Meridian high schools and Meridian and Mill Creek middle schools. The King County Sheriff’s Office provides two deputies to schools outside the city of Kent limits, including Kentwood and Kentlake high schools.
“Students deserve a learning environment in which they are not being policed every second of the day,” said Baeza Lakew, then a Kentlake High School senior, who spoke at the protest. “They deserve a learning environment in which disciplinary action is not simply a detention or school suspension, but a positive method of solving behavioral issues to get them back on the right track.”
Lakew said she would like to see money used for mental health counselors, nurses and more support for students with disabilities.
Among the duties of the officers are to respond to school incidents in the district as necessary and support district administrators and staff with school safety inquiries and/or needs for assistance; provide assistance to enforce the law on school grounds, conduct investigations as necessary, and advise/consult with school personnel regarding best practices for ensuring a safe and secure learning environment; and develop a daily routine that ensures high visibility to staff, students, parents and community stakeholders.
The district conducted an online survey that drew 1,137 participants who contributed 1,000 comments, according to the district website. Parents, students, teachers, district staff and community residents participated in the survey. That information will be part of the consideration when the five-member board votes on the contract.
According to the district, eight themes emerged from the comments and ideas shared:
• Do not support school resource officers or police working with schools
• No school resource officers, more counselors, social workers & support
• Parent engagement in school
• Fund additional mental health supports
• School discipline needs to change, including school resource officers
• Support school resource officers in the district with ongoing training
• Fund academic and student supports
Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla told the council the school board still needs to approve the program.
“We need a signed contract,” Padilla said. “The district is working hard to get done. While we wait for policies and procedures, officers will only respond to emergency instances.”
The total cost to the police department to provide two officers and a commander (who serves as a liaison) is $313,157 for the 2021-2022 school year, according to city documents.
The district must pay 60% of the salaries and benefits for the two officers, which is $187,894. The district also must pay 25% of the salary and benefits for the liaison, a cost of $55,186.
That’s a total cost to the district of $243,080.
Councilmember Zandria Michaud asked Padilla if the district is paying 60% of the cost, are the officers at the schools the entire day?
Padilla responded that during the school year the officers are at the schools 100% of the time. He said they also work football games and graduations. In the summer, officers provide refresher training to the Kent School District safety services team that includes a couple of dozen security officers who work at schools throughout the district.