Schools will keep Olympia police officers

OLYMPIA - The Olympia Police Department will save its School Resource Officer program, which City Manager Steve Hall had proposed cutting in the city's 2010 budget due to the bad economy.

The Olympia City Council raised utility taxes to restore some money in the budget, which still includes $4 million in cuts, 13 layoffs and the loss of 14 other positions through reorganization. It also found other areas to cut.

Hall and Police Chief Gary Michel made the decision to retain the program, said Dick Machlan, administrative services manager for the Police Department.

“It’s one the community values highly,” he said.

Two school resource officers, one assigned primarily to Capital High School and another to Olympia High School, patrol the hallways, teach classes, interact with students and are there to respond immediately to crises.

“I know this building,” officer Amy King said in a November interview, as she walked the halls of Olympia High. “I know where all the rooms are. I know what keys open what.”

The officers would have been returned to patrol duties under Hall’s initial budget proposal. But the council restored $150,000 in police funding through utility tax increases.

Now, the resource officer program “is going to be continuing pretty much just as normal,” Machlan said.

He said the department is reorganizing and cutting several vacant positions – a lieutenant, an officer and two cadets. A half-time warrant person is being laid off.

The department’s special operations unit, which includes a downtown walking patrol and traffic emphasis units, will also be folded into the regular patrol unit. A jail contract with Benton County will be reduced.

The department will take a back-to-basics approach, Machlan said.

Though the bad economy is hurting the Police Department, it is also sparing it some responsibilities, for now. Machlan noted that many planned housing developments are on hold. Those would need police protection.

The question is what happens when the economy recovers.

“We’re going to start seeing these places starting to build up again and we’re going to see population increases,” Machlan said. “We’re very closely tied to population size.”