By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Parents who drop their kids off at a Fort Carson schools have probably noticed the uniformed police officers roaming around campus. The men and women in blue are Fort Carson Police Department (FCPD) civilian officers and are all assigned to perform their duties at a specific school for the entire school year.
Though some may mistake the school resource officers (SRO) for security guards, all but one are experienced officers and most came to Fort Carson after serving in America’s armed forces.
“Officers who have a previous military background are at an advantage at Fort Carson,” said Capt. Darrell Robertson, police investigations chief, FCPD.
“Their military experience creates a familiarity with Soldiers and their Families, and their previous law enforcement experience allows them to communicate and build relationships with school staff and students.”
Lortavius Smith, SRO at Carson Middle School, came to the Mountain Post two years ago after working in Security Forces for the Air Force. Joshua Renken, Patriot Elementary School SRO, separated from the Army while he was stationed in Oklahoma, then worked as a deputy sheriff there before moving to Colorado along with his wife, an active-duty Soldier now stationed at Fort Carson. Christopher Gates, SRO at Mountainside Elementary School, arrived at the Mountain Post as an active-duty military policeman and has been a law enforcement officer since 2004.
While their work is different than most law enforcement officers, Robertson said it is important.
The FCPD began providing school resource officers for on-post schools in 2015 through a mutual operations agreement with Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 (FFC8). Now, each on-post school has a dedicated full-time officer during school hours.
“Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 places a high priority on school safety,” said Dr. Montina Romero, deputy superintendent, FFC8. “The district began investing more in the school resource officer program many years ago and implemented having at least one SRO in every one of our schools in the 2018-2019 school year. FFC8 is the only district in the region to make this kind of investment at all levels (elementary, middle and high school). We are thankful to our partners at the Fountain Police Department and the Directorate of Emergency Services for supporting this investment and the safety of our staff and students. Partnerships like these are crucial to the success of the initiative.”
SROs, such as Michael Buck at Abrams Elementary and Thomas Gehres at Weikel Elementary, investigate incidents and assist school administrators with problem resolution and disciplinary measures. They provide safety and security for school staff and students.
But that description fails to identify some of the most important work these officers perform regularly. While many people may view police officers simply as authority figures, especially the younger set, Fort Carson SROs see themselves as coaches and mentors to the students they see every day.
“We stay pretty active at Mountainside,” Gates said.
“Maybe not so much on the law enforcement side, but definitely administratively. We have behavioral programs where we deal a lot with kids who are struggling. I absolutely love it. It’s different. It’s not your typical police position, but I like the interface with the kids and the staff.”
Since he’s an SRO at a middle school, Smith must deal with more serious types of incidents that come along with older children. There are more incidences of theft, fighting and bullying among middle schoolers, which have higher impacts to other students and staff.
That said, it’s not unusual to find Smith socializing with middle schoolers in the cafeteria or playing basketball with students on the playground.
“It takes a special person to be an SRO,” Smith said. “You have to really be able to relate and understand kids, and you have to have a lot of patience. I want to be the fun cop. When it’s time for business, then we conduct that professionally, but I’ve seen the influence and impact that a positive attitude can have on students. We want the students to be comfortable with us. It leads to understanding.”
During the summer months and at holiday breaks, the SROs will typically perform regular patrol duties on Fort Carson.
“It’s strange to be on patrol in a neighborhood and suddenly realize that you know most of these people,” Gates said. “When you’re on duty at the school, it seems kind of isolating. You don’t realize that you’re meeting a lot of people until you see them outside out in the world.”