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Casper City Council seeks assurances before agreeing to Natrona schools’ request for more police presence

Police cars are seen in front of NCHS during a lockout in October 2019. (Trevor T. Trajillo, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — On Tuesday, the Casper City Council discussed a request from the Natrona County School District to provide two additional school resource officers during the 2022–2023 school year to increase police presence at middle and elementary schools.

Some City Council members expressed caution as to whether adding more school resource officers is the right solution to increase safety at schools. Other councilmembers expressed strong support for the concept, but said they want some assurances that the school district won’t stop providing funding for the additional officers, something it did in recent years.

Prior to the 2021–2022 school year, the Casper Police Department provided as many as nine school resource officers plus a supervisor to the school district. However, the district reduced the number to five school resource officers and a supervisor for the 2021–2022 school year due to funding concerns, Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said in a memo regarding the district’s request. The addition of two school resource officers would bring the total back up to seven plus a supervisor for the upcoming school year.

McPheeters told the City Council he recommends the city meet the school district’s request, both because he thinks it will help increase school safety and because the school resource officers can help beef up police patrol efforts in the summers. Under the arrangement, the school district covers 75% of the cost of salaries, benefits, equipment and vehicles for school resource officers who serve in that function during the school year while the city covers the other 25% as the officers help with other police department operations during the summer.

Vice Mayor Steve Freel and Councilmember Bruce Knell both said they would like to meet the school district’s request but want the agreement to include a formal commitment from the school district to fund the school resource officers for more than one school year. Freel said he’d like to see the district commit to funding the additional officers for a minimum of four years and Knell concurred with this suggestion.

The short-term nature of the previous school resource officer agreements between the city and the school district could potentially benefit both entities as it gives each the flexibility to adjust if money is not there in their respective budgets, McPheeters said.

Councilmember Jai-Ayla Southerland said she is unsure whether additional school resource officers is the best solution to improving school safety. She and others referenced the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School. Seventeen other people were wounded in the shooting.

“I’m not convinced that two SROs are going to provide the safety that we need,” Southerland said. “I want to protect our kids, but I want to do it in an evidence-based manner. I want to really think through this before I consider it.”

Councilmember Kyle Gamroth said the Texas school shooting also made him wonder whether more school resource officers are the right tool to improving school security, as he couldn’t recall any cases of a school resource officer stopping a school shooting. Gamroth cautioned his fellow councilmembers against being reactive in their decision regarding the school district’s request.

From a previous discussion on the topic, Councilmember Amber Pollock said she recalled the police chief talking about how school resource officers can help prevent school tragedies from occurring even if they are not necessarily in the position to singlehandedly stop shootings once they are underway. McPheeters told the City Council that there have been many cases in which a school resource officer helped prevent a tragedy, but that such cases of prevention don’t tend to get as much media attention as school shootings that aren’t stopped before they happen.

Pollock said she was unsure as to whether she could support the school district’s request for two reasons. The first relates to the school district fluctuating in terms of the number of school resource officers it wants from year to year. The second reason relates to the school district being willing to fund school resource officer positions but simultaneously “cutting a variety of other support services for students,” Pollock said.

If 100% of the cost for school resource officers was covered by the school district, Pollock said she might be less hesitant to support the request.

Freel suggested the City Council wait to decide what to do about the school district’s request until city staff are able to provide exact costs and other information such as the district’s willingness to formally commit to funding school resource officers for more than a single school year.

City Manager Carter Napier said staff would work to secure such information and would present that to the City Council.

The City Council’s full discussion can be viewed via the City of Casper’s YouTube channel:

McPheeters’s memo explaining the school district’s request can be reviewed as follows: