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School officer job in limbo

June 11, 2005

School Resource Officer Tiffany Hicks could have her job taken off the chopping block — at least for another year. But she isn’t off the hook yet.

A necessary portion of the annual $70,000-$75,000 cost for her position is contingent upon a forecast state budget windfall. If the $15,000 tentatively pledged by the Hood River County School District out of an expected $900,000 in extra funding fails to materialize, Hicks could be back out on street patrol.

And that, she said, would mean more than just the loss of her presence at Cascade Locks School, and both Hood River and Wy’east middle schools. It would also bring to an end the many “tried and true” programs that she has developed during the past four years.

“I focus every day on the safety and future of the children in this community and I don’t know what could be more important than that,” she said.

Hicks said the safety concerns she addresses are varied, sometimes physical and at other times cognitive. Last week she arrested a “predatory” adult male who was suspected of seeking out at-risk middle school students for illicit activities. He had been repeatedly warned to stay away from school property — so Hicks decided it was time that he got the message. She has also led multiple investigations during her tenure into cases of child sexual assault and physical abuse.

An equal share of her time is used to teach students at the three schools about personal safety. They are warned that one out of every 10 teenage couples get involved in a violent dating relationship and how to recognize danger signs in a partner. Another lesson centers on the legal ramifications of drinking and driving, including the fact that 75 percent of all car and motorcycle accidental deaths involve juveniles and adults — with more than half alcohol-related.

Hicks also provides teachers, parents and community groups with educational materials about bicycle safety and safe use of the Internet.

Since she is now a familiar face in the school halls, Hicks is often asked to meet a student need through the police department’s Sunrise Division or another family service agency. For example, she has learned how to network with public/private partners to cover the cost of quality winter coats, athletic fees and equipment for low-income children. In addition, she has arranged horseback riding lessons and other incentives for students who were experiencing academic challenges.

And she has also orchestrated plenty of hands-on learning opportunities in the classroom. Hicks has taught fingerprinting techniques to biology students that have helped them see the uniqueness of each whorl and how that aids an investigation. Language arts classes have been given a brief real-life scenario and then directed to write an official police report including “just the facts and nothing but the facts.” Students in social studies are informed about their civil rights protection against illegal search and seizures by police and divided into two camps to argue the legality of specific cases.

“I think we all learn best by doing and these lessons raise student understanding of police work and are just really a lot of fun,” she said.

Hicks has managed to remain enthusiastic about her role in spite of ongoing financial worries. Hood River City Police Chief Bruce Ludwig said a school resource officer often shoulders the workload on any case involving minors since she/he is a trusted figure that children are comfortable to talk with.

“Having someone like Officer Hicks in the schools takes a lot of pressure off patrol officers and patrol deputies,” said Ludwig.

When the city police department scored a federal grant for Hicks’ position and that of Community Resource Officer Aaron Jubitz four years ago, all seemed rosy. Jubitz and Hicks set about developing their respective programs secure in the knowledge that their wages, benefits and equipment were completely paid the first year and then on a decreasing scale for the next two years. The intent of the money was to provide lead time for local agencies to absorb the cost of the two specialized officers into their regular budgets. However, fissures arose in the plan to make both positions permanent when fiscal year 2004-05 arrived and the city was mandated by the contract with the Department of Justice to pay the full expense of Hicks’ position. Since 2002, Cascade Locks Interested in Kids (CLIK) had picked up the tab for 10 hours of Jubitz’ time each week. However, because of the city’s current budget constraints, he is now back on patrol and his work to arm neighborhoods against crime has been shelved.

CLIK, a prevention coalition, is also planning to contribute funding for Hicks’ job. The organization believes her work among youth is invaluable to promote healthy lifestyles, but the amount of that contribution is not yet available.

Bob Francis, city manager, said the school resource officer program will also have to be dropped if municipal citizens are forced to bear the full cost. It is, he said, a matter of equality since Hicks primarily works outside of the city limits.

“I just didn’t feel that it would be fair to have city taxpayers completely fund this position since Tiffany spends only one-third of her time here,” said Francis. “However, it would be a real loss to have her back on the streets since she is an excellent role model for students and is definitely the right person in the right job.”

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