With a new sheriff in Laramie County, a few of the department’s old policies are being shaken up and stirred.
Among them is Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak’s decision to discontinue the school resource officer as a full-time position after the department failed to reach an agreement with Laramie County School District 1 specifying the officer’s duties and limits of liability.
But that decision doesn’t mean students are going to see reduced police presence in their schools. In fact, the restructuring Kozak has implemented means that more students are likely to see officers up close and in person at their schools.
“We had one school resource officer who was covering, you know, 2,600 square miles,” Kozak told Cowboy State Daily. “So, there were schools who may not see the school resource officer for over a week.”
Other schools outside the seven covered by the previous memorandum of understanding with the school district, meanwhile, didn’t see a school resource officer at all.
“So, we thought, you know, that’s not the intended purpose,” Kozak said. “So what we’re going to do instead is require all patrol deputies on a daily basis to go walk through the schools in their respective areas and build relationships with the kids.”
The new change has meant schools that previously didn’t have any officer presence at all now have a deputy whose job includes developing relationships with the children and looking out for them. And that is true not just for LCSD 1, but also for LCSD 2.
“We’ve just made it a patrol goal for every deputy to be involved with our school system, with our schools and our kids,” Kozak said.
Aaron Veldheer is among officers who now have a school on their beat. On a recent Tuesday, he showed up at Afflerbach Elementary School for the first time, where he told Cowboy State Daily he plans to make a regular stop.
“I’m trying to hit one (school) a week,” he said. “But we are having deputies who are going out all the time now and either sitting there during the morning rush or the afternoon and doing walkthroughs in the school.”
One deputy, named Miles DePrimo, has been bringing stickers with him to school, Veldheer said. That’s made him an extremely popular figure there.
“He just gets mobbed,” Veldheer said.
Duties More Defined
The new approach was prompted after the school district, county attorney and sheriff’s office couldn’t agree on language in a memorandum of understanding to limit the duties and liabilities for the school resource officer position.
“We should be focused on enforcing the law, building relationships with kids and helping ensure the school is secure,” Kozak said. “So those are our three main functions. We just want to make sure we’re not crossing the line in something that’s really the school’s responsibility.”
Kozak believes the new solution will not only get more officers into schools and keep everyone’s duties more clear, it will also help with logistics in the event of an emergency.
“(Before) deputies were like, ‘Oh that’s the school resource officer’s job, so I’m not going to go near the school,’” Kozak said. “But what if an emergency happens and the school resource officer is off, or they’re 30 miles away at another school?”
In that case, the road deputy must respond.
“We want to be in a position where those deputies are familiar with their schools,” Kozak said. “So, they know people in the schools. This kind of makes them get in there and build those relationships.”
Former Resource Officer Still Has Job
The former school resource officer may not be traveling 2,600 miles to visit seven school districts like before, but that officer still has a job, Kozak said, and that job still includes visiting schools in her new territory.
“She’s going to be taking other calls in the area she’s assigned,” Kozak said. “So, we’re kind of spreading her duties as a school resource officer to all the deputies now.”
Recently, the former school resource officer was able to visit schools in Burns and Pine Bluffs, Kozak said.
“They haven’t seen a deputy in a long time,” the sheriff added. “So now she was able to have the time to go out and do that.”
Kozak has also recently instructed canine deputies to visit the schools as well.
“The kids love dogs,” Kozak said. “So that’s going to be a good thing for the kids to see and interact with.”
The change in how school resource policing is done is likely not the last change for the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department. Kozak has begun an employee committee to work on a new mission statement, after which it will examine processes and procedures to suggest improvements.
“When I came in as sheriff, we did surveys with all the employees, and that was one of the things that the employees criticized management for, was not listening to their ideas,” Kozak said. “So, again, that’s the purpose of these employees. We want them to take the lead with their own vision, and then, you know, where we go from there, and then actually work those ideas out themselves.”