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Connecting with students at Edmonds-Woodway

School resource officer Tom Smith returns for a new year

 

August 29, 2019

Brian Soergel

Tom Smith, Edmonds-Woodway's school resource officer, helps students prepare for interactions with police after high school.

On Wednesday, Edmonds Police Officer Tom Smith begins the second year of his second stint as school resource officer at Edmonds-Woodway High School, a position he held from 2004 through 2010 before the recession forced the Edmonds School District to stop funding its 50-50 portion of the salary with the City.

On Monday, Smith reflected on his first year back.

"It was actually a really good year," he said from his office at the school, empty of students but thrumming with activity from teachers and staff preparing for the new year.

"I can't remember exactly what my statistics were, but I didn't make any physical arrests in the school," he said. "No handcuffs went on. I believe I did two referrals, so that means that somebody committed some kind of crime, meaning I referred them to the (Snohomish County) prosecutor for review."

The cases were for a student with a large load of marijuana, and for a cyberstalking threat from a student who reposted a Snapchat picture threatening a shooting at the school.

But the bulk of Smith's time will no doubt be spent doing what he did last year – creating connections with students and creating an environment where they feel comfortable interacting with police, as for many it will be their first meeting with an officer.

Smith will also facilitate conversations in the classroom.

"I have a history degree, so, if I get into a history class, I enjoy that. Typically, I'll talk about the Constitution. I'll talk about how law enforcement works. What a kid may expect when they interact with police. I talk about the Fourth Amendment. If you're a teenager, you typically aren't going to interact with the police that often.

"And then if you do, a lot of times it's something kind of negative because if you're calling 9-1-1 or having 9-1-1 called on you, it's something that's not positive, and that's just the nature of being a police officer."

Smith's goal, he said, is to prepare students for life after high school so they understand what it is that police officers do, and why they're doing it.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

With apologies to David Bowie, Smith has seen a few since his first tour of E-W's halls. One, of course, is the ubiquity of smartphones and corresponding apps. That can sometimes lead to harassment, but Smith said it's important to keep something in mind: harassment is harassment, no matter if it's face-to-face or digital.

"We certainly want students to feel like they can come to an adult in the building – whether it's an officer, counselor, teacher or staff – and let them know that there's a problem," he said. "One of the pitfalls of social media is that it's like email. Sometimes it's hard to get across how you feel. There's a lot more to a conversation. If you're face to face with somebody, you can get a better idea of whether or not they might be kind of joking about something, that sort of thing."

School harassment issues are typically handled by school staff, but Smith could get involved if there is a certain amount of escalation.

Vaping

In addition to the increased use of social media, Edmonds-Woodway – like schools nationwide – has seen a dramatic rise in teen vaping.

The use of any tobacco products are prohibited on campus and at school-related activities.

"I remember when (e-cigarettes) first came out, they were touted as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes, that sort of thing," Smith said. "But I think they're just starting to find now that vaping is actually very dangerous. There's a lot of the laws of unintended consequences if you will, with vaping.

"I'm not a doctor or anything like that, but you're putting that vapor with chemicals into your lungs. That's just not a good idea. Plus some of them have had a tendency to explode. We haven't had that here, but it's certainly unfortunate when it happens to a person."

SROs on campus

When not on campus during the school year, Smith returns to the police department's patrol unit. Every summer, however, he participates in statewide school resource officer training, which provides information on new laws and best practices. This year's training was held in Spokane.

Smith said he believes in the effectiveness of SROs as educational and deterrent tools.

It was earlier this year that the Edmonds School District decided to step back on a budgeted SRO on the Scriber Lake High School campus after a few parents expressed their concerns about an armed officer around students.

This year, the school will return a retired, unarmed officer to its campus, which includes Edmonds Heights K-12. Smith didn't speak specifically about Scriber Lake, but did tout the success of SROs in general.

"I think a lot of times when people talk about the reasons why they don't want police in the schools, if you look at those reasons they give, usually those are the very reasons why you actually want the police there," he said.

"It has a lot to do with creating relationships, allowing kids to understand that police officers have a job to do and why they do the things they do. Like why do they shine a spotlight in your car during a traffic stop late at night? I give lots of examples when I talk to the kids. I tell stories, based on things that I've done in the past."

Another school year

Smith said that the vast majority of students are good kids, as evidenced by only the two major incidents in 2018-2019. They're respectful, follow rules, pay attention during security drills, and know procedures for getting in touch with parents and guardians during emergencies.

"Kids are still just kids," he said. "There's not really a big difference. There are obviously some differences with changes in the laws and how we deal with stuff. But for the most part, students are still the same they've always been.

"You know that you get a new group of freshmen in and they try the same things that the last group of freshmen tried, going off campus, that kind of stuff. And you know, just the normal kind of pushing boundaries that freshman do."

 

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