Renton schools come up with new plan for police presence

RENTON, Wash. -- Renton Police Officer Heather Spencer is somewhat of a rock star at Hazen High School where she was a school resource officer. When she pulls up in her patrol car, students rarely run the other way. Instead, they pull out senior photos or share test scores.

She says her presence deterred skipping and her rapport with students helped gather intel quickly when necessary.

But those SRO days are over.

The police department lost grant funding that provided money for three school resource officers that had been stationed at the district's three high schools. When the money went away, so did the positions.

But police came up with a plan to maintain a presence at schools called Adopt-A-School. The program encourages officers to swing by schools along their beats. Officers stop in for assemblies, walk the halls, or do their paperwork in the parking lot.

"If you're just pulled over on the side of the school typing a report from previous call, it still appears to other people that you're there for a reason," says Spencer. She says kids considering skipping, "See that officer's car there and go 'maybe now's not a good time.' "

The police hope to deter and diffuse situations. It is a welcome program for St. Anthony School principal Michael Cantu who says police presence was sporadic unless there was a problem.

"Anything that we can achieve in the way of greater safety for the kids, any principal would just be more than pleased. So I'm very pleased," says Cantu.

The deadly shooting at a school in Nevada Monday is on the minds of parents and principals.

"It's something always on your mind and you're always being vigilant," Cantu said. "I can't stress enough how nice it is that Renton Police Department is taking this proactive step."

Parent Cynthia Calderon concurs: "Nowadays, you never know what's gonna happen and if I can have somebody there double checking to see the kids are OK, I would love for that to happen."

But Renton mom Cindy Murphy says police routinely stopping by schools might help a little but doesn't reassure her. "If somebody's gonna come in and shoot somebody, either they're not gonna care or they're gonna wait. It doesn't seem like a whole lot of protection," she said.

Officer Spencer responds, "the program is you're to do the best with what we have."