Aurora Grimes is a familiar sight for anyone visiting Leander High School. She’s usually near the front of the building, but students and teachers alike see her regularly throughout each school day.
Grimes is a Leander police officer assigned to LHS as a School Resource Officer. This is her second year at LHS through a program that allows the school district to contract with local police departments to provide an on-campus officer.
The program has been in place since 1998 and recently LISD superintendent Dan Troxell told the community that the SRO program provides trained police officers to provide additional security on campus.
“Our SROs are officers first, trained by the police department or sheriff’s office,” Troxell said at his annual State of the District luncheon in March. “They undergo training in child and adolescent development and psychology, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques, positive behavioral interventions and support and mental and behavioral health needs of children.”
The job involves much more than just responding to altercations between students. More than that, the SROs are a resource for teachers and students on campus at each of the six LISD high schools, and getting to know the students on campus and building relationships with them is an important part of the job.
“I have had situations where children come to me (about lots of issues),” said Grimes. “I’m not a counselor but the kids will come to me because I’m here all the time.”
Part of her job is to assess the situations students might raise with her, offer support and encouragement, and then Grimes said that though she’s not a counselor, she knows enough to involve administration to help make sure the student gets the help they need from the appropriate person on campus.
“Everyone in the front office has my number and sometimes they call me at home, I don’t mind it, they can contact me any time,” said Grimes. “It does make it hard when you know what the child’s background is and you know they don’t have a support system. They might have a support system here at school but not at home and they think that what they’re doing is actually right.”
In fact, Grimes, who has been assigned to Leander High School for two years, said her routine is different from one day to the next.
“The way it was described to me before getting here is so true. It’s like being on patrol, but you’re on foot patrol,” said Grimes. “There are days where it’s very slow and there are days where I’m handling three situations at once. You never really know what you’re going to have.”
She added that things often get too busy for a single SRO to handle everything at once. She’s asked the district for another SRO, something district spokesperson Matt Mitchell said the district is working on… though the solution may not provide all the help Grimes said she needs.
Mitchell said the district is looking to hire an SRO supervisor, who would serve as a liaison between the school districts and the Leander and Cedar Park police departments. The new position would also be responsible for working with the SROs across the district to assess safety and security protocols.
That’s also something Troxell has addressed previously, writing in a 2016 column for the Hill Country News that SROs do more than just provide a visible law enforcement presence on campus, they become trusted adults for students, helping to bridge trust between law enforcement and the student body.
“They help create an environment of open communication and early intervention. They mentor students in need. They can also act as an educational resource, creating programs around the signs and consequences of criminal behavior, safe online behaviors and bike safety,” Troxell wrote.
While most SROs usually deal with routine school issues, such as fights and reports of weapons or drugs on campus, news headlines are full of reports of more serious incidents. And while there hasn’t been an active shooter or similar situation on one of its campuses, the district has said it’s as prepared as it can be.
Grimes said she’s also prepared.
“We’ve been through active shooter training,” said Grimes. “I have been trained to assess a situation and notify the department on what I know at that very moment.”
Grimes notes, “The days of waiting for SWAT to respond are long gone. I’m already here. It’s been proven that the best way to stop the situation is to take action immediately. I think it would be naive to sit here and think that’s never going to happen.”
The Leander Police Department has trained Grimes and its other officers assigned to schools on how to respond to such situations, and the Cedar Park Police Department has done the same for its officers.
“I hope that it never happens here, but if it does, I can assure you the Leander PD is training for it, and it’s training that you hope you never have to use, but we’re ready,” said Grimes. “If that were to happen here, I’m going to do as I was trained… assess and move right in.”