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Salinas officials pushing for SROs in more schools

Armed officers on campus still a controversial issue on the Central Coast, particularly in Salinas, where only one of the city’s six school districts allows school resource officers.

One year into the SRO program at the Santa Rita Union Elementary School District, Salinas city officials are talking all about the benefits of the program. Now there is a new push to try and get school districts who have already rejected SROs to reconsider.

The city held a community meeting Monday night to encourage parents who want SROs in their schools to contact their respective school board members.

At the meeting, two SROs from Santa Rita Union told residents how they maintain the peace at schools as well as carry on an important public relations mission.

“That was one of the goals, to develop these positive relationships with our community so they can see that having a school resource officer is a very positive thing,” said Richard Lopez, a Salinas school resource officer who gave an interview to KION earlier that day.

Representatives from Alisal Union and Salinas Union High School Districts, both of which said no to SROs, came with their own questions about funding and effectiveness.

Some residents shared their skepticism.

“I was shaking. I was extremely emotional to hear that this is a conversation that we’re bringing up yet again here in the Salinas school district to try to bring in school resource officers, to have armed officers around our children I feel is completely horrifying,” said David Castion-Mendoza, a Salinas resident.

During a presentation at the meeting, Lopez talked about his year at Santa Rita School District. He touted many programs used to build relationships with the children and how he can deal with crime on campus more effectively.

“I wasn’t persuaded at all. I felt like it was a lot of false advertisement and a lot of false promises,” said Castion-Mendoza.

“We need this program badly. Especially now with all these shootings, it’s everywhere,” said Ivan Cabrera, a Salinas resident. “We just want to protect our children, so I’m going to keep supporting the SRO program until the last day of my life.”

This renewed effort by the city comes with a two year timetable to spend about $3 million in federal grants. But two issues the Salinas police chief says are not negotiable are disarming the officer and not having them wear their uniforms.

“I personally went to a high school with SROs and they seemed very intimidating to me, I was in Clovis Unified School District,” said Priscilla Savannah Salas, another Salinas resident.

While Salas says she feels that way, she agrees the SROs could be beneficial for students in Salinas.

“As long as we include other preventative programs for kids to stay out of the line of probation and into the line of the law,” she said.

In the year the SRO program has been at Santa Rita Union, the officers have only handed out two citations to two students who committed some serious crimes including battery and attempted murder. But they say in these situations, giving citations, coupled with counseling, is better for the students than potential jail time.

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