BELEN — The city of Belen and Belen Consolidated Schools have once again joined together to approve funding for a school resource officer at local schools.

According to the memorandum of understanding, which was approved by both the Belen City Council and the Belen Consolidated Schools Board of Education last week, the SRO will “help reduce school violence while improving perceptions and relations between students, staff and law enforcement officials.”

The school district has agreed to pay the city a maximum of $75,000 annually for the officer. The city will pay for the officer’s training, patrol unit and other necessary equipment.

Belen Police Chief James Harris said the standard operating procedure dealing with the SRO outlines the duties of the officer and school personnel.

“It (the SOP) says the officer will have discretion in criminal matters, and the fact they are not school disciplinarians, they will not address violation of school policy,” Harris told the council. “We are not there to investigation immigrant status.”

The MOU states the school resource officer will be stationed out of the Belen High School, but will be available to any school site in the district in need of law enforcement.

“The addition of another SRO will be based on funding available and the needs of Belen Consolidated Schools,” reads the MOU between the two entities. “This will be on a case-by-case basis given circumstances of said events and availability of department manpower.”

The school resource officer will be expected to be present at school functions, such as athletic events, dances, PTA programs and other school-sponsored events.

Councilor Frank Ortega asked if the department is looking at placing a school resource officer at other school sites in the city in light of recent school shootings in other states.

“At this point and time, the school resources officer will be stationed at the high school, and will be available at the middle school and elementary schools,” Harris said.

BPD Deputy Chief Jose Natividad said the one SRO will respond to all schools and school events in the district

“That doesn’t mean patrol will not answer to the schools,” Natividad said. “If the SRO is busy, we will respond to the schools.

“The one school resource officer will be working those (school) events, such as games,” he added. “But when we have events against Los Lunas … who are intense rivals, and at the schools request … we will provide additional officers.”

The Belen Consolidated Schools hasn’t had an SRO for the past few years. In June 2019, then BPD chief Victor Rodriguez informed then BCS superintendent Diane Vallejos the department couldn’t provide an SRO to the district, saying there was a shortage of police officers within the department.

Harris told the News-Bulletin this week the department is lacking two police officers, and the SRO will be an additional officer on the force. He will open the position up both internally and externally.

“I started talking about bringing back an SRO when I took over in January 2020,” Harris said. “We just didn’t have the funding.”

When asked why there is a need for an SRO in Belen, Harris simply answered, “Uvalde, Texas. Aztec, New Mexico. Hobbs, New Mexico. Columbine, Colorado.”

“I refuse to become a part of that particular problem,” the chief said. “That’s not going to be on my watch.”

While there will only be one SRO, Harris hopes that one day, there will be enough funding to add an officer to every school in the district.

“My hopes for this school resource officer is one, that we have a strong working relationship with the teachers, students and the parents to obtain a safe learning environment for the students. That’s my primary goal,” Harris said.

“Second, is to lower and eliminate school violence; but let’s be honest, that probably will never happen,” the chief said. “But if we can limit it a great degree, that’s going to be better for everyone.”

Harris said having an SRO at the schools and being the eyes and ears for the department and the district will help stop a lot of problems.

BCS Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez confirmed the SRO will be cross commissioned in Socorro County to be able to serve La Promesa Elementary at the far southern end of the BCS district.

Harris did say he will speak to Socorro County Sheriff William Armijo about possibly cross commissioning the SRO, but an agreement is not yet in place.

(News-Bulletin assistant editor Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this report.)

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.