Following the high-profile arrest and tasing of an Española Valley High School student with special needs, Española School Disrict officials are finalizing an agreement with the Española Police Department to have two student resource officers (SRO’s) at its schools.
Under the terms of Memorandum of Understanding, the Department will provide an SRO at Española Valley High School and at Española Middle School.
In return, the District will pay the city $138,992 for the SRO’s, significantly more than in previous memorandums signed with law enforcement agencies.
In a memorandum signed in 2015 with the city, the District agreed to pay up to $40,000 for one officer.
District Safety and Security Manager Donald Lopez said the price was determined based on the city’s pay scale and the experience of the officers hired to work at the schools.
However, he said the nearly $140,000 figure is tentative, as the District still needs to verify it has the funds to make the payment.
“With the budget issues that we’ve been dealing with, we’re trying to see what we actually have as far as a budget,” he said.
No matter how the Memorandum changes, the District will hire at least one SRO, Lopez said.
The new agreement lays out rigorous standards for conducting searches or charging students with criminal offenses through the court system.
SRO’s can only conduct searches when there is probable cause, a higher standard than the reasonable suspicion that school district officials required.
Lopez said these same requirements existed under previous agreements with law enforcement agencies.
Probable cause means that the SRO must believe that the student committed or is committing a criminal offense.
An additional high standard for questioning or interrogating students is outlined in the agreement as well, requiring that resource officers only question a child about an incident that could result in criminal charges in the presence of their parent or guardian and after explaining the child’s Miranda rights. Those rights include the right to remain silent along with an explanation that any statements made by the child could be used later in court to convict them.
The new Memorandum also provides strict guidelines as to when an SRO can become involved in a situation, which include any incident with “a real and immediate threat.”
Police logs show law enforcement was called to the High School 31 times within the first month of school, calls which ranged from a woman yelling at a security guard to a student possessing a vape pen.
Española Police Department interim chief Roger Jimenez presented the newly-crafted Memorandum to the city Public Safety committee on Oct. 2, where city councilors unanimously approved it. The entire City Council was expected to consider the agreement on Tuesday night.
Jimenez told the Committee the money paid to the Department from the District for the officer salaries would be used to hire two additional officers.
Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez had said negotiations with the city for SRO’s were stalled, because the city wanted the District to pay for an officer’s overtime while working on the weekend, according to a previous Rio Grande SUN story.
The Memorandum states the District will not pay any overtime for officers.
It will, however, pay a lump sum of $7,500 for officers working overtime at school sporting events.
Although not explicitly stated, it is likely that the May tasing of a High School student with special needs helped shape some of the details of the new agreement, including the requirement that resource officers explain the child’s Miranda rights and have a parent or guardian present.
Now-former Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Barnes did not advise a 15-year-old student of his rights during the May incident, and on lapel video was seen repeatedly refusing to let the child’s mother in the room.
Lopez said the District is much more confident about this Memorandum, because they will have more say as to which officers work at their school sites. He also said SRO’s will carry their standard-issue weapons while on duty.
“They’ll be carrying the weapons that they usually carry on the streets, but we will ask for specific training on those weapons,” he said.
Jimenez said Monday that he wants the Department’s role in the school to be a positive one. He said he wants SRO’s to act as role models and mentors.
“Our job is to keep the staff and the kids safe,” Jimenez said. “We want to be a safe haven for the kids, not an obstacle.”