Police and school officials in Goodyear, Ariz., have set up police substations in three elementary schools, increasing police visibility and fostering communication between law enforcement and the school community.
Under the program, officers stop by the schools during the day and use office space provided by the schools to do paperwork or make phone calls during their shifts. Officers are not assigned to a school or required to go to a school. Their schedules and duties on any given day determine when they can drop in and use the office.
“It’s a great opportunity to have police visibility on campus,” says Lisa Kutis, police public information officer. “Having police officers on campus acts as a deterrent to crime. It also paints officers as positive role models, and some officers enjoy stopping in during lunch time and interacting with students. The program is also fiscally responsible because there are no out-of-pocket costs to the school district or the police department.”
Gina DeCoste, principal of Mabel Padgett Elementary School with 825 students, proposed that police set up a substation at her school following the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. The program began in early January at Mabel Padgett, and has since expanded to two more elementary schools, Westar Elementary and Centerra Mirage School.
“The kids love it, they think it’s really cool having a police officer on campus,” DeCoste says. “Usually the officers take a walk around and see the kids because the kids get so excited, and the parent feedback has been extremely positive.
“Having officers on campus provides a positive role model for students and peace of mind for parents and staff. In addition, the police car parked outside adds a visual deterrent to someone wanting to commit a crime.”
The school already had a working relationship with the police department, and the substation has furthered that bond. Police participate on the school’s safety committee.
“We are building relationships, and when issues come up where we want law enforcement advice, it’s nice that I can walk down the hall and say ‘can I run this by you real quick?’ ” DeCoste says. “We had the foundation for a good working relationship with Goodyear PD, and I believe that has helped make the substation successful.”
The Goodyear Police Department, with 94 sworn officers, serves a population of about 66,000 residents and is a suburb of Phoenix. The substations are located in three separate geographic areas of the city — the north, south and central areas of Goodyear — and encompass three separate school districts, all located in Goodyear. Full-time school resource officers serve the city’s high schools and are available to respond to other schools if needed.
“The substations foster better communication with school staff and the student body, and a fully marked police car outside increases visibility and awareness of police in the community,” says police Lt. Scott Benson. “The students are great and we get very positive feedback. They find us approachable and it gives them a better understanding of police. It gives them an opportunity to see us in a different light.”