When Arapahoe County Sheriff Deputy Mark Edson walks into a classroom at any of the nine elementary Littleton Public Schools he serves, students swarm him for high-fives, hugs, fist bumps and sheriff stickers for their notebooks. As a School Resource Officer (SRO), Edson wouldn’t have it any other way. “First and foremost, my job is to protect the kids and staff in the building, and it’s also about breaking down barriers so the kids feel they can come to me if they need help,” said Edson.
Since the early 1980s, School Resource Officers have been a part of the school community in Littleton Public Schools (LPS). SROs are sworn law enforcement officers who are responsible for providing a law enforcement presence in school buildings. During a typical school day, an SRO walks the halls for security, but also talks with students. Between classes, at lunch and on the playground, SROs offer students the opportunity to discuss whatever is on their mind - with the intention of becoming part of the student's daily routine at school.
The SRO works closely with administrators to create a safer environment for both students and staff by assuming three distinct roles in the school setting: that of educator, informal counselor and law enforcer. This triad allows SROs to inform students about law-related topics through classroom instruction, provide them with a trusted role model/counselor and produce a safe and secure building.
At the elementary level, the SRO provides a foundation of respect and builds a relationship that students can trust during their school years, leading to a better understanding of what to do, and what not to do, when making decisions that affect others. Edson, who grew up in Littleton and attended Littleton Public Schools, loves working in the area and in the schools where he grew up.
“I’m a law enforcement officer inside a school building - but I’m also a friend and an authority figure, part of the safety team, part of the counseling team and part of the welfare team,” said Edson. Edson hopes that if he can put in more work at the elementary level, it will alleviate the work that the SROs at the middle and high school level have to do when these kids move up.
The SRO is just one part of extensive security measures LPS has in place throughout the district, including: 24-hour centralized electronic security monitoring for all district facilities, a radio communication system that allows 24-hour direct contact with law enforcement agencies, ID badges for key card access controlled entry, improved sight lines and rapid 24/7 response protocol. But even with the latest security technology deployed, the SROs utilize smiles and face-to-face interactions to build strong relationships in their school communities.
“I try to say hi to every student I see, and I work at making connections with them so they see me as a person AND an officer,” said Powell Middle School SRO Kristin Bunten. With five years of SRO duty at Powell and more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, including six years as a detective, Bunten knows what early intervention can do for a kid’s future - and she takes that role personally. “It feels like family here at Powell. I cry for these kids, I love them and sometimes I have to discipline them. In some cases, and this is when it's tough, I’m the only person in their life that will do all three. I try to teach them that actions have consequences and I offer guidance that hopefully keeps them from making big mistakes. In the end, my job is to protect the community and the students.”
Because the LPS district has schools in both Littleton and Centennial, the SROs are employed by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office and the Littleton Police Department. The total SRO budget for the LPS program is more than $1 million per year - thankfully the cities of Littleton and Centennial cover half of that cost, which makes the program possible. Every middle school has a full-time SRO and every high school has at least one full-time SRO. Additional SROs share coverage of the elementary schools in the district.
“The SRO program has become an invaluable partnership between Littleton Public Schools and the Cities of Littleton and Centennial,” said Clay Abla, Director of LPS Secondary Education. “They provide safety and security for our students and staff and have become an essential part of our school district family. They aren’t just patrol officers - they come in and get to know the kids, the staff and the parents, so when issues arise, they have a foundational relationship to help them problem solve. They have become part of the staff and are crucial to the well-being of our LPS community.”
Maintaining a safe and secure learning environment is at the core of the SRO’s role in the LPS community, and our schools are safer because of their presence and dedication. The SRO officers are in a unique position to effect real change at every level with their collaboration. “In my day-to-day SRO activities, I do my best to ensure that the school stays at a high level of awareness for the safety of the building. It’s a team effort in our schools to educate and protect,” said Deputy Edson. “My job is to connect with kids and train and teach staff to be aware and prepared. Our work is to prevent a problem before it happens, but when someone needs help, we are coming. And quickly. Nothing is more important that being sure our students are safe everyday.”