High school newcomers Christie Westlake and Phil Trimble didn’t try too hard to make friends on the first day of school Wednesday.
Those friendships will come with time, they said.
The two uniformed police officers were met with a mixture of stares, whispers, a handful of hellos and indifference when they made their debut at Coeur d’Alene and Lake City high schools.
“It was a little uncomfortable,” Westlake admitted. “You have all these big eyes staring at you when you’re in a uniform.”
The Coeur d’Alene School District and the city agreed this summer to split the cost of placing police officers in the schools. The City Council approved the agreement the night before school started.
On Wednesday, Westlake and Trimble were like high school freshmen, finding their way around school and settling into their new assignments.
They mingled with students before school and during the lunch hours, but didn’t force any conversations. Westlake had to leave during part of the day for court appearances.
“Everyone’s getting used to each other,” Trimble said from his almost bare office in Coeur d’Alene High School’s counseling department. “I’ve been saying hello to the students. You don’t try to force a conversation when they’re not ready for it.”
Trimble, or “Officer Phil” as the school staff calls him, wore a navy blue polo shirt with a police badge and navy blue slacks.
Westlake hadn’t been able to find casual clothes for her school uniform yet and was wearing the standard police uniform.
Both were wearing their guns.
Although some students said they didn’t understand the need for the guns, Westlake said “it’s the tool of a police officer. It goes wherever we go.”
The guns may be necessary in the event of a dangerous intruder on campus, suggested Trimble.
“You have to be able to protect everyone around you,” he said. “That’s part of our job.”
The officers have multiple roles on their new beats. Along with patrolling campus and preventing crimes, the two officers share the entire juvenile caseload for the Coeur d’Alene Police Department.
By working the schools, they’ll have easier access to students who may have information to help solve crimes. They’ll also be able to develop relationships with students - at least with most of them.
“I’m not just here to make their lives miserable,” Westlake said with a big smile. “Unfortunately, I might for some of them.”
Of her caseload of seven juvenile crimes that day, only one suspect was a Lake City High student.
“Those are pretty good odds,” she said. Both she and Trimble requested to be assigned to the schools.
Many students had not yet met their school resource officers by midday Wednesday. Some said it would be “weird” having police patrolling their schools, but few were adamantly opposed.
“I think he’s fine as long as he doesn’t get on a power trip over all us students,” said Jill Pederson, a senior at Coeur d’Alene High.
No one expressed concern about the new district policy allowing officers to interview students in private.
Both high school principals said the school resource officers will help prevent serious problems from developing at their schools.
The program is modeled after one that started in Boise more than 20 years ago. Boise Sgt. Don Davis said its benefits were demonstrated last week when school police arrested three older teenagers who arrived at one high school with baseball bats for a fight.
“You’ll find the program will be a success,” Davis predicted. “By luck and foresight we got onto it early on, and we’ve not let it go.”
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