Submitted by North Thurston Public Schools
Officer Alisha Howard stands in the middle of the cafeteria during a busy lunch period at North Thurston High School. She exchanges nods and smiles with some of the students. Faculty and staff stop to say hello. One asks her a question about home security. Later, at Komachin Middle School, a parade of students on their way to lunch wave excitedly as she parks her cruiser.
For more than six years, Officer Howard has served as a School Resource Officer (SRO) for North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS). Each of the district’s schools has an assigned SRO from either Lacey Police Department or the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. NTPS SROs build positive relationships with students and staff, which is critical to safety and community among students, families and staff.
“We all feel a greater sense of ease when our SRO is on campus,” said Courtney Crawford, principal at Nisqually Middle School. Aside from being a trusted, familiar presence in the schools, SROs like Officer Howard are involved in investigating situations where there are accusations or evidence of physical harm to a person or property.
“My role is to make students feel heard,” Officer Howard said. It’s her duty to make sure students as well as parents understand that she is there to listen, help them understand their rights, and share guidance about how to handle the situation moving forward. In some cases, she actively manages evidence such as video footage or physical objects like clothing so that official reports can be made.
As an SRO, Officer Howard also participates in events hosted in conjunction with other community partners. She recently co-led a presentation with a representative from SafePlace to educate students about consent, boundaries, privacy and self-advocacy. “It’s more important than ever to talk to youth about how to say no with conviction and how to protect their privacy,” Officer Howard said. She’s also involved in conducting welfare checks on students who may be having trouble at home.
NTPS’s close partnership with the Lacey Police Department and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office is essential in improving and maintaining district-wide security as well as personal safety. This year, the Lacey Police Department and NTPS worked together to provide active shooter training for all staff. Officer Howard, her supervisor, Sergeant Kevin Landwehrle, and other SROs, also conducted walk-through security evaluations of NTPS buildings to help ensure our schools are both welcoming and secure. The trainings and security evaluations help ensure preparedness in worst-case scenarios.
“Obviously, active shooters in schools hit home for a lot of people,” Sergeant Landwehrle said. “If we can deter that from happening or improve the outcome if it does happen by educating our faculty and staff, that’s a good thing.”
Crawford, the principal at Nisqually Middle School, explained the complex emotions she and many of her colleagues feel toward the active shooter training. “It can be a little intense because it brings the possibility of such a tragedy to the forefront of our minds,” she said. “Ultimately, though, trainings like these are reassuring because they give us skills to help us handle scary situations.” She added that Nisqually’s SRO, Deputy Micah Rose, who helped lead the training, was very clear about the fact that although the news might make us feel otherwise, the probability of a school shooting is actually quite low.
This year, the Lacey Police Department and NTPS also partnered to host a “stop the bleed” training event. This was a voluntary offering co-led by a local emergency room physician who trains the police department to treat trauma-related injuries. Staff who attended the training learned how to apply a tourniquet and pack a wound. “This training isn’t about first aid,” Sargeant Landwehrle said. “Staff who took this training now have the skills to potentially save a life in the event of a tragedy.”
The district provided all the attendees with “go-bags” containing medical supplies needed to perform the skills they learned.
Beyond security, SROs are a way for the youth in our community to interact with uniformed law enforcement in a positive, community-building way. Officer Howard recently ran into a former student at the Lacey Spring Fun Fair, and the young woman shared that Officer Howard had “saved her life.” Years ago, she and a friend had run into Officer Howard on their way to make some bad decisions. The young woman said that encounter caused her to think differently about what she was doing and put her on a more positive path.
“It’s important for officers to build those relationships because you can influence kids to go down the right path with the right discussion,” Sargeant Landwehrle said. NTPS is proud to uphold a positive working relationship with local law enforcement so that students, staff, and parents can feel secure and supported.