Back on the beat in Edmonds

Policeman Tom Smith returns to Edmonds-Woodway as school resource officer
By Brian Soergel | Sep 06, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel Tom Smith began his second stint as Edmonds-Woodway’s school resource officer this week.

Edmonds Police Officer Tom Smith will have many duties as school resource officer as Edmonds-Woodway High School opens this week, but as he sees it, he has one overriding concern.

“The main thing is creating connections with kids,” Smith said from his campus office this week. “Creating an environment where they feel comfortable talking with police, so that when they go out into the world, their first contact with them isn’t with a traffic stop or with a negative experience.”

The school’s halls are familiar ones for Smith, as he was the SRO there from 2004 through 2010. But the recession eventually caused the Edmonds School District to stop funding its 50-50 portion of the salary.

It’s a different world today, of course, with an improved economy and an ever-increasing focus on school security in light of high-profile shootings and campuses nationwide. All district comprehensive high schools – Meadowdale, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace included – have SROs this fall. Scriber Lake High in Edmonds is expected to have one in place by fall 2019.

SROs are sworn police officers responsible for promoting safety, security and a positive learning environment. They work closely with parents, teachers, administrators, students, community members and police staff.

The school district is once again paying for half of Smith’s salary and $2,000 for half of his annual police vehicle operation. The contract between the district and City of Edmonds expires June 30, 2021, and allows for two one-year extensions.

Of course, much of Smith’s job will involve education.

“I’ll talk to kids about what to expect when they talk to police out in the world,” he said. “I’ll do presentations in classrooms where I’ll talk about traffic stops, civil rights, expectations, that kind of thing. I’ll go to select teachers so that I’m aware of what I have to say fits in with their curriculum.”

Smith will be on campus during school hours, in the halls, at lunch, at sporting and other special events, again becoming part of the daily fabric at Edmonds-Woodway.

An average day will see the officer greeting students in the mornings and going about his daily duties, which can include – as he says – reacting and taking action against low level, risky behavior.

“Whether it's alcohol, marijuana, bad driving, even jaywalking – it's a lot of the little stuff that if kids understand the boundaries, I can help instill more sense of responsibility."

Smith is trained for more serious circumstances.

He has gone through several extensive active-shooter training exercises during his career, and is part of the school district’s threat assessment team.

“Kids that present a threat can get evaluated by a group of stakeholders from different backgrounds so we can come up with a comprehensive plan to help that student,” he said.

During the 2015-16 school year, the school district enhanced its lockdown procedures, specifically in response to the possibility of a violent intruder situation. It adopted the ALICE Institute program, whose foundation is the federal "Run, Hide, Fight" model.

ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) is intended to provide staff and students more options. The five steps can be used by staff and students in any order, as the situation develops. The key emphasis is on listening to their teacher and following instructions in an emergency.

Through this change, the district reports, it is giving staff and students more safety options through education and preparation. Further, past tragedies have demonstrated that simply having students in lockdown and attempting to hide isn’t always the most appropriate response. There could also be a call to evacuate.

“If there were some sort of event at a school that required police to respond to a violence, when those officers get there they will be able to create a plan and be able to very quickly go in and do what needs to be done,” Smith said. “We’re all going to be on the same page.

“Having an officer on campus is the No. 1 deterrent to school violence. There are probably a lot of things that will never happen just because there is an officer here. It’s hard to put a value on having an officer here if just using that as a threshold.”

Although certain laws require a police officer to intervene during a violent crime, weapon violation or assault that goes beyond shoving, for example, most of the time Smith said he’ll be like any other adult teacher, counselor or administrator on campus.

“There’s a trend going toward the ‘why’ something is happening, not just immediately sending a kid home for the day. There are more in-school suspensions, where they can correct behavior with other types of reinforcement rather than, simply, ‘You need to go home for the day.’”

An SRO posting does have its benefits.

Smith said one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job in the past has seen the growth of students from one year to the next as they transform from kids to adults.

Of course, times have changed since Smith’s first stint as school resource officer at Edmonds-Woodway.

“Everyone has a smartphone now, so everybody’s as smart as their ability to look things up,” he said. “And I’m sure I’ll end up on YouTube more this time than last time.”


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