Special Reports

Fatal Foss shooting adds emphasis to plan to put police at high schools

City leaders and school officials have stepped up work on a plan to station full-time police officers at each of Tacoma’s five comprehensive high schools following last week’s fatal shooting at Foss High.

Superintendent Charlie Milligan said Tuesday that he might ask Tacoma School Board members as soon as next month for about $300,000 for the project.

But it could be as long as a year before a school resource officer program is fully operational, said City Manager Eric Anderson.

The idea to station full-time, permanent police officers at Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Stadium and Wilson high schools is still in the exploration stage, Anderson told Tacoma City Council members during a noon study session Tuesday. If it’s finalized and approved, it will take time to hire and train officers and get them all in place, Anderson said following the meeting.

News of the plan came just six days after a 17-year-old junior was shot to death at Foss High School.

But it’s an idea that’s been under discussion “for a while,” Milligan told council members.

“The incident that occurred last week sort of heightened our movement,” Milligan said. “I think the community would like to see us move in a direction that gives them more confidence in the safety of our schools.”

Samnang Kok died in the school’s 300 hallway after he was shot three times at close range about five minutes before classes were to begin Jan. 3.

Douglas S. Chanthabouly, an 18-year-old junior, was arrested near the campus about two hours later. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

The 29,600-student Tacoma School District now pays for three off-duty police officers for school security, Milligan said. The district also employs 34 security officers throughout the secondary schools and alternative programs.

No commissioned police officer was on campus at the time of the shooting. Tacoma police arrived minutes later.

Following the shooting, schools officials said they would station four police officers at Foss this week. They also plan to post an off-duty uniformed officer on the campus for the remainder of this school year.

Both Anderson and Milligan said Tuesday that they believe Tacoma police officers can be stationed in the high schools eight months out of each year.

Late last year, the City Council approved the addition of three police officers.

Anderson said he hopes to combine those hires and school district money in a plan that will benefit both the city and the schools.

The City Council also allocated $765,000 in the 2007-2008 budget to pay for programs to reduce youth violence and gang activity in Tacoma.

Top administrators from Tacoma Schools, Metro Parks, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, the courts and the city’s Police and Human Rights and Human Services departments are working on a strategy to use and stretch those dollars.

The idea of school resource officers will be on the agenda when the group meets in the next two weeks, Anderson said.

Although there’s a “sense of urgency to get going and get this on the road,” the city and its partners must take the time to come up with a plan and ways to measure outcomes, Anderson said.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, who’s been leading the effort on the council, also does not want the job rushed. “It needs to be thought out and worked out over time to make sure we do it right and that the evaluation piece is in place,” she said.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659