You might say that Paonia Police Officer Taffine Patterson is going back to school. On Tuesday morning, Patterson became the first School Resource Officer to patrol the halls of Paonia Elementary and Junior Senior High schools.
While Patterson is employed by the Paonia Police Department and carries out other duties, the SRO position is funded by Delta County School District J50. Under an agreement approved on Dec. 11 by the Paonia Board of Trustees, the town will receive $20,000 -- $10,000 per school -- for the calendar school year to fund the part-time position. Paonia is the first town to receive SRO funding from the district.
"I've been wanting to do this for years," said Paonia Police Chief Neil Ferguson on Patterson's first day of school. Patterson, who joined the department in 2015 and left in 2017, returned to the department last fall. Her timing was right, and her training made her the ideal choice for SRO, said Ferguson.
SROs are certified, sworn law enforcement officers employed by an agency, are Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified, and have undergone special SRO training. The Police Department determines which officer will act as SRO and sets a monthly work schedule.
According to the agreement between the town and the school district, goals and objectives of the program include establishing a positive working relationship with law enforcement in order to prevent juvenile delinquency and assisting in student development, maintaining a safe and secure on-campus learning environment that is conducive to learning, and promoting positive attitudes toward law enforcement's role in society.
Under the program, SROs do not pull lunchroom, hall or other monitoring duties, nor are they allowed to be interviewed by the media. Their duties include assisting the district superintendent and school principals, faculty in preventing and minimizing dangerous situations that may occur on school grounds; present topics to students on various law enforcement and safety issues; take law enforcement action when necessary; contact the school principal about any incidents, charges and arrests; assist schools in enforcing campus code of conduct and other orders.
Ferguson said he hopes that having an officer in school will make them feel comfortable around and gain a better understanding of law enforcement. "That's important," said Ferguson. "We want the students to trust them."
A collaborative effort between the Delta County Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Delta County has resulted in a proposal for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety. A PowerPoint presentation titled "Back the Badge" is starting to make the rounds at city/town council meetings, service club luncheons and other events.