Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 1

The Status of School Resource Officers in Walnut Creek

After Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd, the nation exploded into protest, with the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement forcing a reckoning between the police and race relations. One focal point of contention in the Black Lives Matter movement is that of School Resource Officers (SROs), or police officers specifically tasked with patrolling school campuses. Both the San Francisco Board of Education and the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education unanimously voted to remove school resource officers from campus, while the Antioch City Council and School District Board of Trustees’s decision to hire six school resource officers in narrow, racially-divided votes that sparked a wave of protest.

Controversy over school resource officers has not reached its full clamor in Walnut Creek nor at Las Lomas High School. AUHSD Boardmember Bob Hockett said that he “[believes] SROs can be a positive presence on campus as long as they are perceived by students and staff as a proactive position.” Hockett also said “that is not the perception on many campuses throughout the Bay Area…to my knowledge we have received little, if any, expressions of concern about the continuation of this position, [and] if we did, we would certainly reevaluate the need for an SRO and, if appropriate, ask the city to remove the officer.” Councilmember Wilk said that the SRO program at Las Lomas “[was] requested by the school board and administration due to a rash of school shootings nationwide over the past several years.”

There have been some public commentators at Las Lomas PTSA meetings that have specifically criticized the SRO program and called for its abolition, with these commentators saying that School Resource Officers  “brushed off” statistics about police racial bias – such as African-Americans in Walnut Creek being thirteen times more likely to be arrested, relative to the general population – and connecting WCPD presence on campus to the WCPD’s killing of Las Lomas alumnus Miles Hall in 2019. Walnut Creek Police Department Chief Tom Chaplin identified the SRO program as a possible cut if the Walnut Creek City Council voted to reallocate 10% of the Police Department’s budget towards other city services, and in an interview with The Page for another article, Walnut Creek Councilmember Kevin Wilk said that he “[has] requested [the City Council] Public Education Committee to review the current need for SROs in the future, to see if any changes should be made, [a review that will happen] at the next Public Education Committee meeting (in the fall).”

Walnut Creek maintains its own School Resource Officer program in the form of Officer Nicole Rosenbusch, the School Resource Officer assigned to Las Lomas and WCI, and Officer Shane Blatz, the School Resource Officer assigned to Northgate and Foothill. Nancy Kendzierski, President of the Acalanes Union High School District Governing Board, described all police departments working with AUHSD as “very supportive, collaborative, and appropriate,” and said “all Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) campuses have good relations with their local police departments.” Kendzierski also said that “there is no district funding for an SRO at any of our schools,” with all money for SROs at Las Lomas coming from the Walnut Creek Police Department, which “prioritized and funded the position, partly due to the location of the school.”

In numerous Walnut Creek City Council meetings, Councilmembers have also discussed the School Resource Officer program with regards to police actions on January 9, when Officer Rosenbusch alongside several other officers of the Walnut Creek Police Department arrested a student who allegedly brought a handgun into campus. According to a CBS News report made shortly after the incident, “school officials immediately contacted Walnut Creek police about the tip shortly after 11 AM.” Furthermore, according to Police Lieutenant Tom Cashion in an interview with the Page for an article published shortly after January 9, the “first responder” was the SRO; the second officer also arrived very quickly after the call, with the two officers together arresting the alleged student. Cashion described the situation as “all hands on deck” after the student’s arrest, at which point the Police was enforcing a lockdown and “searching [for] lockers, [searching] for a car, [and] searching… the campus for a second perpetrator.”

Officers of the Walnut Creek Police Department did respond to requests for comment regarding the January 9 incident and SRO arrest statistics, but were unable to give comment prior to this article’s deadline.