TPD, Tomahawk Schools implement inaugural SRO program
Late last month, Officer Brett Susa, a 13-year veteran of the Tomahawk Police Department, became the first SRO (School Resource Officer) in the history of the Tomahawk School District.
An SRO is defined as a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority, who is deployed by an employing police department or agency in a community-oriented policing assignment, to work in collaboration with one or more schools. As recommended by the National Association of School Resource Officers, agencies and schools alike are advised to select SRO’s carefully for their assignments. And as Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins explains, that was precisely the reasoning for the formation of a selection committee comprised of district leaders and members of the city’s Police and Fire Commission. Two officers applied for the position, both long-time department veterans; Susa having 13 years of service and the other officer having 15 years of service with the department.
“I was a member of the committee but wasn’t a voting member,” Elvins explained. “Both sides agreed it was important to take our time to assure we had the right fit for the position. Both candidates were highly qualified and do a tremendous job for us, it’s tough to lose Brett from patrol and it would have been tough to lose the other officer but on the same note, the SRO position is very important to both the department and the community. There is no doubt in my mind Brett will do great. He has been a long-time volunteer participant in our Books and Badges program, where officers drop in to read to our elementary school students, and that was something he really enjoyed. So he already has quite a bit of experience walking into the position.”
As district Superintendent Terry Reynolds explains, consideration of a possible SRO program was initiated following the February shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and 17 wounded.
“After the school shootings in Florida last spring, we held some community listening sessions on school safety, and the Resource Officer appeared to be one area that most of the community members thought would be helpful. We sent out a community survey and asked the question if the community would be in favor of such a position for the District, and the position was very well supported. After getting some information from area schools, we found out in our research that Tomahawk was the only school in our conference without a Resource Officer in their buildings,” Reynolds said.
“After having discussions with the City of Tomahawk Police Department and drafting an agreement,” he adds, “I presented the information to the school board, and made the recommendation that we move forward to partner with the City of Tomahawk.”
As Reynolds and district staff were looking into the matter from their end, Elvins and department staff went to work investigating a possible SRO program and gathering information, following approval from the city’s Health and Safety Committee.
On Sept. 11, the Tomahawk Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the implementation of a School Resource Officer for the Tomahawk School District.
From there it was just a matter of working out any budgetary concerns between the two entities.
“We went back to our respective boards, Mr. Reynolds’ being the Board of Education and conferring with the city council on my end, and came up with a proposal we could both work with,” Elvins adds. “The ultimate priority for all involved is the safety of our kids and the community. We have a huge public presence in our school complex every day, the presence of an officer serves as a deterrent to violence and criminal activity.”
The final agreement entailed a 73% TSD/27% TPD funding formula, translating to the SRO program being funded by the district for 187 days per year, which is the approximate number of days school is in session. The city would fund the remainder. Any overtime is covered by whichever entity overtime is accrued for. For example, if Susa were to log overtime while in his SRO capacity, the district would then be responsible for funding the overtime. During the summer months, Susa will return to complement the Tomahawk Police Department patrol division.
While serving in the SRO capacity, Susa does not have a set schedule but assists where and when as needed, according to Reynolds.
“The principals meet and provide a schedule of need on a monthly basis,” Reynolds said. “There is no specific set schedule. Officer Susa assists as needed, and makes frequent rounds throughout the building. He attempts to make himself available to students during their lunchtime as well.”
As for the future, both Elvins and Reynolds agree on the possibility of Susa being integrated into an instructional capacity to some extent, but as for now, the focus is on getting into the swing of things.
“Our plans include daily presence at school, attending our larger community events, as well as instructional/presentation in the classroom,” Reynolds said. “Officer Susa is on our safety committee and is a Safety Assessment Team member. He will assist in staff safety programs and discussions.”
As he approaches his first full month in his new role, Susa is admittedly excited.
“It’s all pretty new yet but it’s pretty exciting,” he says with a grin. “It’s a bit of an adjustment going from patrol to working in the schools but it’s been fun. I’ve been working day shift for several years already so that has definitely helped, rather than a sudden switch from night shift to days. I enjoy working with and interacting with students and staff, they’ve made me feel very welcomed. I’m just happy to be here and help wherever I can. The idea of being a resource for students and staff is exciting in itself.”
“Everything I have heard has been positive,” Reynolds adds. “I believe students and staff feel more safe and have a great safety resource here each day. We will continue to review how we can improve the program, but I believe the program is very positive for our students, staff and community. In the first few weeks of the program, I believe Officer Susa is off to an excellent start and is a valuable asset to our school and community. Chief Elvins and the City of Tomahawk have been very helpful and supportive of getting this program off to successful start, they have been great partners to work with.”