Fort Thomas Officer, Zac Rohlfer, will move into his new role starting this school year.
The agreement comes after months of talks between the schools and the city and was introduced simultaneously during the Fort Thomas Independent School Board of Education meeting and the City Council meetings on July 16. Both boards passed the agreements unanimously.
The agreement is for one year and will be financed by the City of Fort Thomas for the 2018-2019 school year.
“We meet annually with the schools prior to each school year. In those meetings and through the course of the year this topic has come up repeatedly because of the events nationally,” said Ron Dill, City Administrative Officer. “This year because we are fully staffed, the police department felt they could place an officer in as an SRO for this year.
We’ve had a great collaboration with the schools and we wanted to be certain that we include the parochial schools because they are also in our community and can be served the same way. It’s important for our residents to know if their children are in our schools, in our city, that we are equally concerned with them regardless of their school location, whether it’s the independent school district or at a parochial school.”
Rohlfer, who was selected as the SRO by the Fort Thomas Police Department, will maintain an office at Highlands High School. Newly minted Police Chief, Casey Kilgore, said that the timing was perfect.
“We’re very excited and we’re very happy for this new position. We’ve had questions from several people throughout the community about the SRO program, and we felt the time was right to do it now that we could get one of our own officers could serve in that capacity on a full-time basis.
The timing of it worked out so well. We barely got him into the SRO class that started Monday. There was only one seat left when we decided whom we were going to pick. We got him in for today so we’re happy.”
Rohlfer has been with the Fort Thomas Police Department for his entire career, hired in 2008. He will perform a regular workweek of hours with such hours and pay to be based on duties and pay equivalent to a regular police officer.
“I’m most excited to get to interact with students regularly and hope it allows them to have far more good interactions with an officer,” said Rohlfer. “My main goal, initially, is to form relationships with the schools and make sure together we're doing everything possible to keep students safe.”
Jamee Flaherty, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services in the Fort Thomas Independent School District, outlined the responsibilities for Rohlfer during the Board of Education meeting, Monday.
“There is an educational opportunity that will go beyond just being in the buildings. We hope to have engagement in classrooms with formal interaction with students at each school regarding citizenship and bullying, offensive behavior, drugs, violations of city ordinances, state laws, school policies or any other conduct that’s expected of students.
“We’re very excited about the partnership and that the city’s in a position to provide an officer to be involved with our students at the outset of each day.”
She said that when requested by the principal, the SRO could be involved in parent or faculty meetings to support and understand the program.
Additionally, Rohlfer will be available for conferences with students, parents and faculty members to assist them with problems of law enforcement or of a crime prevention nature. He’ll also assist the principals with developing plans and strategies to prevent or minimize dangerous situations. But Rohlfer will not be the school disciplinarian.
“That’s a school responsibility,” said Flaherty. “The SRO is also not to be used for regularly assigned lunchroom duties, as hall monitors, or other monitoring duties.”
The most recent available data on how many districts employ a SRO comes from a 2018 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (a part of the U.S. Department of Education), based on a survey of public schools conducted in the spring of 2016. The Center reported that 42 percent of public schools reported that they had at least one SRO present at least one day a week during the 2015-2016 academic year.
Since then, it’s widely thought that that number has increased significantly.
“Having a police presence within our schools is going to be a positive experience for the students, staff, and our community,” said Dr. Karen Cheser, Superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools. “We feel strongly that basing Officer Rohlfer at Highlands High School, with him also being available to our other schools in the city, is going to allow him to build rapport with everyone within the district. Our District has always been forward thinking and this is another step in that direction.”