Amid calls to defund and reform police departments, cities from Seattle to Denver to Oakland, are moving to remove police from their school campuses.
Coastside schools don’t have their own police forces or extensive contracts with local cities. Instead, the police presence at schools is limited to the role of two school resource officers, who are part of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Community Policing Unit and are paid for entirely by the county. Cabrillo Unified School District Board President Kimberly Hines confirmed that the SROs are neither required by nor funded by the school district.
Deputy Shawn Chase, who has worked as a school resource officer on the coast for the past seven years, said his role is to provide safety and security to schools and students. Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said the officers also provide resources and support, and help the Sheriff’s Office connect with the local communities it serves.
In an email to the Review, Chase wrote that he spends the majority of his workweek on school campuses and is involved with the Sheriff’s Activity League and community service events. To him, it’s important that a member of the Sheriff’s Office fill this role because it creates trust and open communication. He said it’s not uncommon that he will be invited to attend family events like church services, holidays, funerals, birthdays and family celebrations.
“With the many relationships developed through the SRO program, it gives the community a chance to personally get to know a law enforcement individual on a professional and personal basis.” Chase wrote.
Not everyone agrees that officers should be on campus. At the last Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, community members spoke about divesting police from schools. Rubi Salazar said she supports widening access to programs that aid students, but said she doesn’t want to see the Sheriff’s Office take on that role.
“I believe that Half Moon Bay High School does not need to be policed by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s department,” Salazar said. “They need free activities, mental health resources and substance abuse and prevention services.”
To Pescadero High and Middle School Principal Kevin Allen, SROs are an invaluable resource. In his school community, their presence helps build mutual trust and respect among students and law enforcement. Allen said they can also help when a student is struggling with identity or with authority figures in their life.
“Sometimes, they just need to hear it from another voice, or from someone in a uniform,” Allen said.
Allen said that school resource officers are also available to help defuse any on- or off-campus incidents that might affect the learning environment, and if there were ever any violence at school, they would be able to intervene. But Allen said nothing like that has happened at his school since he started there in 2014.
To Chase, that’s a sign his efforts are working.
Chase’s tenure on the coast ended this year. He has been reassigned to the Sheriff’s Office Transportation Unit, but said he plans to stay involved with SAL and the Coastside community.
“The SRO position has been one of the most rewarding positions that I have held during my 34-year law enforcement career,” Chase wrote.