GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County Sheriff's Office has launched a School Resource Officer program for schools in the county that are outside of Great Falls city limits.
Senior Deputy Shawn Baker is excited to start his new role as the SRO, and said the schools in the county have welcomed him with open arms. "They're very caring in each school. They want to make sure I'm fed, they want to make sure I'm taken care of, just like I am for them when I'm there. Just passing the little ones, the little kiddos in the hall, all of them waiving and them wanting to come up and give me a hug to the senior classes where I actually got to go in and talk to them for about an hour each last week just to try to explain to them who I am and why I'm there,” said Baker.
The SRO program has been a high priority for Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter since he was elected. "Granted, he'll work as an SRO but his primary function is to teach kids stuff about the Constitution, about Montana Code Annotated, about crime prevention, and community and law enforcement. The reason those things are so key is, we know that those things are not necessarily being taught,” said Slaughter.
He emphasized that the SRO will not be a replacement for school discipline.
"I think the issue that has occurred across the country is, instead of the schools dealing with their associate principals, with our councilors, dealing with the discipline of students themselves they have gotten over-dependent on law enforcement in the schools and said 'Oh, now you're a law enforcement problem.' That labeling that that child gets at a young age, they now say 'Okay, I'm a law enforcement problem. I'll always be a law enforcement problem.' We are not going to do that,” said Slaughter.
For now, Baker plans to visit the county's schools on a weekly basis, visiting the three elementary schools in one day and spending a full day at each of the other schools.
Slaughter said having an SRO also gives him peace of mind that the Sheriff’s office will be able to respond quicker if something happens at a school.
Public schools in Great Falls are staffed by SROs from the Great Falls Police Department: