It’s been awhile since Olympia Police Officer Tim Bronson’s high school days.
But after 24 years in law enforcement, he’s going back to school, joining the swarms of students passing through Olympia High School’s front doors.
He recently signed on as the Olympia School District’s new student resource officer, a position that serves Olympia High School — where Bronson spends most of his time — in addition to Reeves Middle School and six elementary schools.
The district went without an officer for about a year after several officers retired, leaving the department short-staffed. But now that the department is back at full strength, they’ve reinstated the position.
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The resource officer job costs $125,500 per year. The school district pays $39,000 and the city of Olympia covers the rest.
Bronson’s duties include school security, discipline and providing a role model for students. It’s important for students to build positive relationships with police officers, he said.
“There are a lot of kids out there who have only had negative interactions with the police,” Bronson said. “They’ve gotten into trouble, or they’ve been home when their parents have been arrested. So of course they’re not going to be happy with us. But this is different. I’m here to build bridges, to build trust.”
Students typically begin to trust an officer within a matter of weeks, said Assistant Principal Frank O’Connor. And sometimes they’re more comfortable talking to officers than to school administrators about arguments with other students or problems at home.
“It’s really not about catching kids doing anything wrong,” O’Connor said. “It’s more about developing different kinds of relationships and serving students in the best way we can.”
Bronson starts his day by taking a lap of the school campus and the surrounding neighborhood to ensure everything is as it should be. He then goes inside to greet students as they start their day.
He spends the school day solving minor conflicts, checking on students who haven’t been to school for a while and speaking to classes.
“Since I’ve been here, several teachers have asked me to come speak, at the high school, the middle school and the elementary schools,” Bronson said. “Everyone has been really welcoming, the staff and the students.”
It’s nice to enjoy the positive elements that teens bring to the community — the factors that police officers don’t always see, Bronson said. For example, he spent some time with Olympia High School’s orchestra class, listening to the students play.
Despite the perks, Bronson was the only person in the department who really wanted the job — likely because the tasks performed by resource officers don’t always fall into the category of typical police work, Bronson said.
Nearly half of the Olympia Police Department’s officers have been hired in the past three years, and new officers are often eager to put their newly learned skills to work, he explained. Bronson worked as a resource officer in Olympia’s elementary schools about 10 years ago, so when the position opened up, he pursued it.
But that’s not to say the officer position doesn’t come with challenges and responsibility.
Because of school shootings, having a trained police officer on-site gives school employees peace of mind, O’Connor said. Bronson sits on the school’s safety committee, and would likely be one of the first responders should something catastrophic happen at the high school.
“Of course, all of us would do anything we could to protect the students,” O’Connor said. “But that’s not the same as having a trained officer around. His judgment and experience are great to have, and I think everyone feels better about the unknowns.”