VALE – Just a few weeks into the school year, Derrick Peasley is already well known at Vale High School and Vale Middle School.
That was evident last week when the new school resource officer from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office drifted through the lunch room at the high school. He was met by waves, and students called out his name as they gathered or stood in line to get lunch.
He stopped at one table of boys and sat down and chatted. Then, after a while he stood up walked around the lunch room and paused at a table packed with young women.
He talked to them until another student approached. Peasley recognized the youth and soon the two were exchanging high fives.
Peasley’s presence at the high school is the culmination of a plan devised by Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff, and Alisha McBride, Vale School District superintendent, last spring to resurrect the school resource officer program.
“We had an SRO before, five or six years ago, and that year the sheriff’s office paid for it with an understanding it would be a one-year deal and then the school would pick it up,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said, though, that district funding for the officer evaporated and then the Covid pandemic hit.
“They were getting some money from the state and were going to go again but it fell through. Covid shot it,” said Wolfe.
The new agreement between the sheriff’s office and the district will require the district to pay for Peasley’s wage through the school year. When the school year ends, Peasley goes back on patrol and the sheriff’s office covers Peasley’s costs. The district is using state money to fund its portion of Peasley’s contract.
“We’ve been talking about it for years and Alisha contacted us and said, ‘Hey, I think this will work now.’ I said, great. So here we are,” said Wolfe.
Peasley’s salary is $110,000 a year, said Travis Johnson, Malheur County undersheriff.
“He will be at all the schools in the district but obviously the majority of the time will be at the high school and the middle school,” said Johnson.
Johnson said Peasley’s mission is “first and foremost, safety of students.”
With the specter of school shootings lingering over the nation, Johnson said the sheriff’s office and the school district want to be “proactive rather than reactive.”
“You never know if you can prevent something like that (a school shooting) but I think being proactive is a lot better than waiting for something to happen,” said Johnson.
Wolfe said the school security is only one aspect of Peasley’s job.
“The mental health aspect of kids in school, kids suffering from mental health issues, is part of it. We want deputies to be in the classroom and to be participating in every aspect of the school they can,” said Wolfe.
Now, Peasley’s presence signals students he is accessible but he said building relationships with each youth is key “to help guide them and watching them grow into good citizens,” he said.
Peasley tackles dozens of minor challenges every day. They range from ensuring students are not vaping on school grounds to walking through the high school parking lot at lunch time to address neighbor complaints about noise and foul language.
A big part of his job is public relations, he said.
“To show, in that first contact with law enforcement, we’re not the bad guys,” he said.
Peasley said he will also begin a series of classes on awareness of illegal narcotics, addiction, the dangers of tobacco use along with lock down drills.
He is also available, he said, to address bullying issues.
“If some kid is being bullied or harassed he or she can come in and talk to me,” he said.
Johnson said the SRO is also important as a safety net to avoid potential problems.
“It is important to have, in my mind, law enforcement there building relationships and having a connection with the kids up front so if something does come up, they’d be willing to work through it with our SRO,” said Johnson.
Wolfe said a “lot of good” comes from an active SRO inside a school.
“From the networking the deputy can make with the kids to the kids becoming more comfortable going to that deputy, talking to him when they have problems rather than just keeping it under their hats. I think it is good for the whole school district and the community,” said Wolfe.
Peasley, who has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2017, said he is excited about his new role. Peasley, who grew up in La Grande, plans to spend more time in the future at weekend school events. Right now, though, his weekends are often consumed with his trips to the University of Wyoming to watch is younger brother, Andrew, play starting quarterback for the Cowboys.
When he’s not watching his brother play football, he said he likes to fish and hunt.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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