Langley’s budget is beginning to take shape and it appears the police presence in town and in the South Whidbey School District is set to increase.
Last week, the City Council gave Langley officials the green light to begin the formal process of looking for a new officer. The position will not only bring needed relief to the small three-man police department, but it will also see the establishment of a school resource officer.
“It’s going to be great for the school district and it’s going to be great for the community,” said a happy Randy Heston, Langley’s police chief.
The line item won’t be finalized until the budget is formally approved, but Mayor Larry Kwarsick said he felt the council’s preliminary nod was as good an indicator of support as you can get.
“It was a pretty strong nod,” he said.
This is a significant victory for both men, as they have been hinting, if not outright advocating, for the position all year.
The department was downsized in 2011 by one officer through attrition for budgetary reasons. Getting the department back up to its previous strength has been a goal for Kwarsick since he took office.
Working with Heston, the mayor said he believes they were able to effectively demonstrate to the council that overtime and the cost of hiring reserve officers has proved comparable to the price tag of a fourth officer.
“The difference is not that significant,” Kwarsick said.
A new officer will mean big things for the department. For one, it will take pressure off Heston and his two existing officers who have been working hard to maintain a consistent police presence in town.
A fourth officer will also allow the scheduling of two cops during the day. Right now, it’s usually just Heston and his duties as chief often keep him chained to his desk. Having someone else to go on patrol will be a big help, he said.
Perhaps most beneficial, another officer will result in the establishment of a resource officer at the school district. It’s not yet clear just where they would be but early conversations point to the middle school, Kwarsick said.
The mayor believes this is the next step in community oriented policing, a model of law enforcement geared toward small towns.
“It’s an example of alternative roles for police officers in the community,” Kwarsick said.
A school officer would serve a variety of functions, from investigating crimes on school property to being a resource for parents and staff. The officer may even give some classroom education presentations.
But most importantly, Heston said they can be a role model for students and help them deal with emerging problems, such as harassment on popular social media websites like Facebook.
“Cyber-bullying is at the top of the list,” Heston said.
School officials are also supportive of the idea.
“I applaud the concept and placement of an SRO (school resource officer) in our district,” wrote district Superintendent Jo Moccia, in an email to the council. “I have worked in districts where this has been a very effective service to students.”
According to Heston, the position will likely rotate among his officers, allowing each to engage and form relationships with students. Some special training will be required, however.
If the position is memorialized in an approved budget, the plan is to hire a commissioned officer, as opposed to a new recruit that would have to spend months at the academy.
That will put boots on the ground all the faster, Kwarsick said.
“Our goal is to have someone in the office by January,” the mayor said.