Lorena police Officer Peter Rivas is heading back to school this August, along with more than 1,700 students.

“August 16 is the first day of school,” the 28-year-old, seven-year Lorena police veteran said. “It will be interesting to go back to school and be able to interact with students in that environment.”

Rivas will become Lorena Independent School District’s school resource officer. The district and the city signed an agreement a few weeks ago after Superintendent Joe Kucera inquired about getting a school safety officer in place for the start of next school year.

City manager Joseph Pace brought the idea to Lorena Police Chief Tom Dickson, who agreed with the arrangement. The deadly Santa Fe High School shooting that left eight students and two teachers dead in mid-May spurred a sharpened focus on school safety, officials said.

“We had been talking on and off for about two years, but after the events in Santa Fe, that is when the superintendent said we need to do something,” Dickson said. “We knew we needed to be proactive, even though we have an excellent relationship with the school district and our officers.”

Lorena ISD will reimburse the city of Lorena for up to 190 days for Rivas’ salary as a part of their agreement. Rivas will remain a city employee, and his vehicle and uniform will continue to be provided by the police department, Dickson said.

Rivas, who has worked criminal investigations with school administrators in the last two years, agreed to make the transition to school resource officer, specifically because of his strong relationship with the school district, he said. His duties will be to patrol and be involved at all district campuses.

“We want the staff and students to know Officer Rivas, but we also want him to know the kids, their families and feel comfortable going to him with any problems they may be facing,” Dickson said. “We will not be in charge of any school disciplinary issues as that will be things the school will still be handling.

“Lorena is a really good school district, and we can foresee issues with some students, so we will try to intervene with any issues. But hopefully the kids will get to know him and come to him with issues.”

Kucera he will be starting his third year with the district, but he knows the importance of having a school resource officer at the campuses.

“Unfortunately in our world and in our nation, this just seemed like the right thing to do,” Kucera said.

Many local districts have school resource officers patrolling their campuses, and others, including Waco, Connally, China Spring and La Vega, have their own commissioned police departments. Some smaller districts farther away from departments with enough personnel to dedicate to a constant presence in schools are considering training and arming employees to serve as school marshals in emergency situations.

Hewitt police Officer Jeff Foley, a co-director of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers in Region 3, said local districts have started to incorporate more officers in their schools.

“I think every campus should have a school resource officer, but then when you get to some of the smaller campuses, the dynamics are a little different,” Foley said. “I think it is great for officers to maintain a relationship with the school districts and make sure everyone is on the same page and maintain the open line of communication.”

Foley, 34, has served on the resource officer association’s board for about a year and oversees 39 counties. Part of the benefit of school resource officers is that they are able on a regular basis to act more as a mentor than a typical police officer.

“We put law enforcement second when we are at the schools, and we can act more like a guidance counselor at times,” Foley said. “We get to know these kids and develop a relationship so it can become very easy to identify the kids that may develop some problems, so just have someone who is not a teacher that they can reach out to.”

While other school districts may not have a resource officer on campus or a district police department, administrators said they maintain a strong working relationship with their police departments. Dickson, the Lorena chief, said the department’s relationship with the schools has already proven beneficial.

“Because of our unique relationship with the school district, there is no way to tell what situations we might have already prevented,” Dickson said. “I have a feeling when Peter goes into the schools, our relationship will be that much better with the kids and the staff.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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