SPOKANE, Wash. – School districts across the country are shelling out thousands of dollars every year to have resource officers in schools.
For the last eight years, Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Cashman has put on his uniform and reported to duty at West Valley High School. Over the years, he said not much has changed, except for one thing.
“I think some of the safety and security aspects of it have become amplified with the recent incidents. Especially with what’s happened here in our own county,” Cashman explained.
He is talking about Freeman High School. In September of 2017, a student opened fire inside the school killing student, Sam Strahan, and wounding three more students. Cashman said the tragedy at Freeman, and more recently in Parkland Florida, has resonated with students and staff.
"The community, the staff, the students are all taking safety and security a lot more seriously,” he said.
He said there is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t ask himself, ‘What if?’
“Everyday I walk onto a campus I run scenarios through my head. If there’s an incident happening down here, how am I going to respond to that? If this were to happen, how am I going to…So there’s a lot of what ifs,” he explained.
Cashman is the West Valley School District’s lone school resource deputy. His office is at the high school but he responds to all of the district’s 11 schools as needed. As a commissioned law enforcement officer he carries his duty pistol at all times. The school district pays a portion of Cashman’s salary to the sheriff’s office to the tune of $35,872 this school year. This arrangement is pretty common.
KREM 2 reached out to dozens of school districts across the Inland Northwest asking how many school resource officers they have and how much they pay for them. Generally speaking, school districts share the cost of a school resource officer’s salary with the law enforcement agency they work for. Smaller districts generally have fewer school resource officers and larger districts have more. For example, like the West Valley School District, the East Valley School District has one school resource deputy at a cost to the district of $35,872. Over in North Idaho, Coeur d’Alene Public schools has eight school resource officers at a cost to the district of $348,000.
The exception is Spokane Public Schools. The state’s second largest school district employees 17 of its own Campus Resource Officers, three administrators and 14 who work directly in schools. They undergo training at the police academy. They carry handcuffs, pepper spray and two-way radios in schools, but they are not armed with guns. A district spokesperson said the average salary for each of those 14 CROs is $71,000. That figure includes benefits. This adds up to a cost of nearly $1 million a year.
District leaders said their schools are in an urban setting and if critical incidents like an active shooter were to happen, all major law enforcement agencies responding in short order.
Back over at West Valley High School, a group of juniors and seniors said they are not consumed by the fear of a school shooting but they do feel better knowing Deputy Cashman walking the halls.
“Yeah, you definitely feel a lot safer. Just gives you a sense of security when you’re in class,” Caleb Atkins, a senior at West Valley High School, said.
“Whatever you need he’s always going to be there for you, looks out for you, just a great guy,” Senior Chase Howat said.
Cashman said he will continue his work, educating students, investigating threats and preparing for a scenario he hopes never happens. He said he feels like he has been able to prevent incidents during his time in the schools.
“I definitely have prevented fights and what’s scary about fights these days is they tend to escalate,” he said.