School officer future uncertain: Terry Oats may be reassigned elsewhere
Just before an interview, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office’s school resource and DARE officer Terry Oats was paged by a local school. When he called the school right away, he learned a concerned student was looking for him and wanted to talk to him.
As a school resource and DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, that’s his job: to make contact with the kids at six Truckee public schools and act as a liaison between law enforcement, school officials, students and parents.
However, two weeks before his 17-week DARE program was set to start at Truckee Elementary School, Oats, an NCSO deputy, was told his position would have to be pulled from the school and he would be reassigned to be a security officer at the Nevada County Superior Court building in Truckee. Following the violent shooting spree that left three dead in a county building and restaurant in Nevada City in early January, county offices are trying to boost security efforts.
Then, just this week he was told that the sheriff’s department was going to contract a security guard from a private firm to man the courthouse for the next 30 days, and that he could stay at the school for at least that amount of time. NCSO Capt. Gary Jacobson said he is confident that the contract will be prolonged and Oats will continue to be the schools’ resource officer through the end of the year.
“I’m very optimistic that we can secure a contract position beyond the 30 days,” Jacobson said. “I’m happy because he does such a great job in the schools and he’s such a value to us.”
Meanwhile, Oats is unsure of the stability of his position, which is funded through a state grant and by the Town of Truckee, and can’t be certain if he will be able to complete the DARE program at Truckee Elementary School this year.
“It’s kind of been day-by-day whether I’m going to be there or not be there,” Oats said.
The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District has had a resource and DARE officer in its Truckee schools for three years. The DARE program includes one hour of classroom instruction in the fifth grade for 17 weeks, in which Oats discusses drug and violence and addresses prevention issues with the students. As a resource officer, he helps fight truancy, responds to incidents at the schools including fights, harassment, drug, alcohol and nicotine abuse, and he is available for the students when they need him. He also takes time to explain some of the legal ramifications of their behaviors and said that it is good for the students to hear it from a different perspective.
“I’m kind of a contact with a lot of the kids,” Oats said. “In a sense, I’m a counselor in some ways. I also end up being a contact person for parents who call to ask for advice or directions to other services available.”
Oats said it has taken almost three years to establish relationships with school administrators, students and other community members to make his position really effective. This school year, the number of arrests and violent incidents on campus have been far less frequent. In the 1999-2000 school year, there were a total of 48 arrests made of students and this year there has only been five so far.
“While there is no actual proof, I think it shows the program is working. Things haven’t been as stirred up this year,” he said. “I think it’s a successful program and one that benefits everybody.”
Glenshire Elementary School Principal Danny Hyde said that the DARE program teaches positive choices and is the best way to deal with many social problems at the school.
“We feel having a uniformed officer on site has accomplished many things in terms of furthering prevention. I think the children here feel safe,” Hyde said. “It really fosters a sense of emotional safety. For many of our students, (Deputy) Oats is their first contact with a law enforcement officer. Some of the students do not receive positive messages about police officers in other situations. At school they can see there is a police officer to help and answer questions.”
Jane Loomis, principal of Sierra High School and Coldstream Alternative School, said that the students at her school look at Oats not as someone who is punitive, but as someone who is there to advise them.
“Resource officers are an important link between school and home and community,” Loomis said. “I don’t believe that any school can do without a school resource officer. They are excellent with communicating with parents about school issues.”
Oats said he likes being around the students.
“I really enjoy working around kids, you have to like working with kids or this job would drive you nuts,” he said.
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