Steamboat Springs High School's resource officer plays many roles

— School Resource Officer Debra Funston described her job at Steamboat Springs High School as one part cop, one part educator - with most of her time serving as a counselor.

"Every day is different. There are days definitely where we have legal issues that go on that I have to deal with when I'm here," said Funston, a full-time officer with the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

"There are times where I am teaching classes, like student's rights classes or leadership classes - just being available to mentor kids," she continued. "Also, kids will come in here with outside legal issues and they'll have questions regarding how a court proceeding may go."

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in April, Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers issued a report Sept. 6 recommending steps that high school and colleges should take to help prevent violence.

The report was compiled by the National Association of Attorneys General and recommends intervention practices for schools, such as recognizing disturbing behavior and finding appropriate sources of referral for students.

Funston's office overlooks the school's front doors and common area. She wears a police uniform once or twice a week to remind students she is a law enforcement officer, but Thursday she wore jeans and a wool hoodie, not unlike many of the teens walking through the halls.

"They see me all the time, there is that relationship that was built with a lot of these kids," she said. "They come in and ask me maybe what to do or how they should handle things, but not everything has to deal with what happens in school."

The school resource officer position is funded through the Police Department, and the school district provides office space and supplies. Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School are outside the city limits and do not have school resource officers.

"That is something we have to work with the county with," said Dale Mellor, the district's director of finance and acting superintendent.

"We looked at that at one time, and we are trying to make a deal with the county, but we have not been able to do that. They said they didn't have the money in the budget, and we said we didn't have the money in our budget. Just something both entities couldn't agree on," he said.

Last year, Funston's fourth at the school, the first senior class graduated after having Funston in the building for their entire high school life.

"You get close to some of the kids," she said. "That's kind of another function, to make that bridge between the youth in our community and the community itself, so I'm quite often pushing kids out into different sectors in the community."

Funston has encouraged students to join the Police Depart-ment's Crime Stoppers program, and others have joined the Grand Futures substance abuse prevention program.

"I would say it is probably 50-50 between in-school and out-of school advice I give," she said. "We have kids who come in that have custody issues with parents. They have restraining orders, so a lot of my day is spent in monitoring these issues and to make sure it all goes smoothly."

Steamboat Springs Assistant Principal Kevin Taulman said the issue of school safety always becomes a hot button topic in the wake of on-campus violence, but he noted school safety is always on the minds of administrators.

"First and foremost, our concern is about the safety of our students," he said. "People get nervous after things happen. It comes up whenever there is an event."

In addition to having Fun-ston as a constant presence at school and extracurricular activities, other safety precautions at the high school include ID badges and having only one point of access to the school.

"All the doors are locked except the front doors," said Taulman, whose office also overlooks the front doors and common area.

"Anybody entering the building has to come in through the one entrance," he said. "We do that to keep people from wandering around."

Funston said that all communities, even those that seem as remote from violence as Steamboat, should look at preventive measures to keep schools safe, but she stressed that schools are about the safest place kids can be.

"A lot of parents feel : that just because a cop is up here is that it's a bad school," said Funston, who also meets with students at Soda Creek Elementary School.

"That is not the case at all. I would say 99 percent of our kids are good," she said. "We have good, law-abiding kids. We just live in a different time than when I was a kid, and they are dealing with different issues than we did at that age."

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

Community comments

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(Anonymous) SteamboatJoe says...

Deb is an excellent resource for the police department and the schools. She does a great job.

Posted 15 September 2007, 7:38 a.m. Suggest removal

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