By JOSH NEWTON
City councilors have given the go-ahead to introduce a fifth school resource officer whose primary duty will be to police Heritage Elementary School and the Southridge area.
The new officer’s salary will be paid by the city, and Tahlequah Public Schools will equip the SRO with a vehicle and uniform, according to Police Chief Nate King.
Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres, during a special council meeting Monday evening, asked King whether TPS would have an officer in every school with the addition of a fifth SRO position.
King explained that TPS now has an SRO at the high school, middle school, and one who patrols the four elementary schools. A fourth position is funded through a separate TPS agreement with Cherokee County officials.
“If something happens, [the new SRO] could leave the school?” Spyres asked King.
King confirmed the officer would be able to assist other school sites, if needed.
“I just can’t imagine an officer being out there six hours or seven hours a day and that’s all he does,” Spyres said.
According to King, heavy traffic on the south end of the city often hampers response times of officers.
“One thing about Southridge and Heritage Elementary is, given our traffic situation in Tahlequah, especially during high-traffic times ... [they] become somewhat segregated from the city of Tahlequah,” said King. “It takes an officer triple the amount of time to get to that portion of town because there’s so much traffic.”
King said the new SRO will be responsible for patrolling the Southridge area, including nearby housing and apartment complexes. He or she will take reports from that area of town when on duty.
“The intent of this officer is to not work the ball games and after-school activities as much as the other SROs; therefore, in the summer time, and probably Christmas break, or fall break, or Thanksgiving break, that officer would roll over and become a day shift officer for the police department,” said King.
“We would see some benefit – an officer we could assign special tasks like handicapped parking, downtown parking on main street, walking the beat on main street and enforcing some of that parking.”
King believes the new SRO could provide special-emphasis patrol four or five months a year for the city.
The new position will be open first to current officers in the Tahlequah Police Department. The officer chosen for the position is expected to begin working in his or her new role next semester.
“I know just in the talks of this, there are close to half a dozen officers who are champing at the bit for this position,” King said.
The current salary for each existing SRO is about $34,000.
Mayor Jason Nichols said the city will have to make a fund transfer later in the year to cover the cost of the new SRO.