Steamboat Springs police officer Josh Carrell, who is the resource officer at Steamboat Springs High School, visits with students, from left, Austin Ritzel, Matt McIntosh, Meghan Hanrahan and Shelby Kassel on Tuesday. Carrell is about to finish his first year at the high school and his eighth year with the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs police officer Josh Carrell, who is the resource officer at Steamboat Springs High School, visits with students, from left, Austin Ritzel, Matt McIntosh, Meghan Hanrahan and Shelby Kassel on Tuesday. Carrell is about to finish his first year at the high school and his eighth year with the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

More than an officer

Carrell takes on many duties at Steamboat Springs High School

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Principal's view

Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman told the Steamboat Springs School Board last week that he supports keeping School Resource Officer Josh Carrell in the high school because it allows students to have contact with and build a relationship with a police officer.

If the district were to invite other police officers to the school to deal with underage drinking at a dance, for example, Taulman said they may not have the understanding or tact of Carrell.

"They're not as well-versed at dealing with youth and with making it a learning experience," Taulman said. "From my aspect as an administrator, that is a very strong point."

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Steamboat Springs High School resource officer Josh Carrell talks with students Tuesday about a proposed social host ordinance, which would punish parents and other adults who allow minors to drink alcohol in their homes.

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Josh Carrell is about to finish his first year at the high school and eighth year with the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

— School resource officer may not be the most accurate title for the position Josh Carrell holds at Steamboat Springs High School.

"School-resource-friend-confidant-authority-coach-sponsor officer" might hit closer to the mark, though even that doesn't fully capture the duties Carrell handles. Students turn to him for everything from a tough day to a stolen MP3 player.

"School resource officers tend to be a triangle of responsibilities," Carrell said Wednesday. "Above all, you're a law enforcement officer, but you're also a teacher and a counselor."

Carrell also is a co-sponsor of the junior class, an assistant boys soccer coach, an assistant in a leadership class, a board member on several community committees and a chaperone at sports games and dances.

About to finish his first year at the high school and eighth year with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Carrell recently was the center of attention when the city of Steamboat Springs turned to the Steamboat Springs School Board to pay half of Carrell's salary because of the city's economic pinch.

The School Board agreed Dec. 1 - after a negotiation concerning benefits - to pay half the salary and some of the benefits for the position. The Steamboat Springs School District will review the position annually and likely will take on a larger role in evaluations.

The difficulty in evaluations, however, is that the resource officer's position combines a number of different aspects that are not always quantifiable.

Last year at the high school, there were 97 reported criminal incidents, including 25 reports of theft, burglary or shoplifting; nine vehicle complaints or accidents; and nine minor-in-possession or underage consumption reports.

The total number of reported incidents increased from 85 in 2006, but that still was a decrease from the 103 and 104 reported incidents in 2005 and 2004, respectively.

Carrell said the numbers tend to jump from year to year because of the small school size, students transferring in and out of the school and economic changes. But his job involves much more than statistics.

Interaction

Students frequently stop into Carrell's office to talk and take a lollipop, or, like sophomore Elliot Stahl, to discuss drug policy.

"I have a more comfortable relationship with him than I do with all of my teachers," Stahl said as he suggested several Web sites for Carrell to read about drug policy.

"He's approachable, because he doesn't have a biased opinion," Stahl said after discussing the merits of drug laws with Carrell for about 15 minutes.

Carrell also has the benefit of understanding what the kids in Steamboat deal with, though he admits it has changed since he was a student at the high school about 12 years ago.

"It's scary, man, seeing what these kids have to deal with on a daily basis," Carrell said.

Even so, he is used to many of the complaints he hears from students.

"I hear the 'lack of things to do in town' excuse. I used to use that excuse," he said. "It's an ignorant excuse. This town has lots to offer."

With that in mind, Carrell is helping ensure more activities are planned for students by assisting Lucianne Myhre's leadership class. That group plans activities for students, including pool parties and movie nights.

Myhre's leadership class began during Carrell's senior year of high school. She had Carrell in the class.

Steamboat Springs Teen Services Coordinator Brooke Lightner was in the leadership classroom with Carrell on Wednesday. She said Carrell is a popular figure with the students.

"He's a positive role model, and I'm always surprised by the number of kids who are talking to him and hanging around him," she said.

While Carrell's major role is to be a presence in the school, he also deals with criminal complaints and legal issues raised by the students.

In one classroom, he discussed Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches and seizures. Students often come to him with legal problems ranging from speeding tickets to family disputes.

Accountability

Carrell has several options when a student is accused of a crime. As a police officer, he has the authority to arrest the students or turn the cases over to the district attorney's office. But he also can create a contract with the student to avoid criminal charges while still ensuring responsibility for the act.

That contract often includes a component of community service at the school, a minimum grade requirement, restitution to the victim and a probationary period when the student cannot commit any other crimes.

If the crime is against another person, the victim always has the option to press criminal charges. But Carrell said such charges do not seem appropriate for some crimes.

"The school cafeteria is struggling with cookie thefts. Is it really worth it to charge a student with a misdemeanor crime for a 50-cent cookie?" he asked.

The school rarely has more than five students on contracts at a time, he said.

"We fluctuate here. Sometimes it seems like I'm swamped with criminal reports, and sometimes I get one for a week," he said.

By putting students on a contract, Carrell said, he also hopes they learn more and get a chance to improve. He also rewards students who cooperate.

"I have the option to reward honesty as much as I can. It gives them an opportunity to prove themselves," he said.

With tougher crimes, Carrell cooperates with the administrators at the school, but he still is required to respect Fourth Amendment rights. Because he is not certified as an administrator, he cannot search lockers under Colorado law. Carrell also said searching lockers is not something that he is interested in doing.

"I can say I saw Johnny doing something, but I can't ask (the administrators) to search lockers," he said. "I can never ask them to act as an agent of mine."

Carrell, who is armed daily and wears a uniform to the school once a week, said he also can ask students to use a Breathalyzer if they come to a school event inebriated, but he cannot force them to take a reading.

The good will he garners from students does not always extend to police officers as a whole.

As freshman Michael Baumgartner played with latex gloves in Carrell's office, Carrell asked him, "What's a cop?"

"Somebody who freaks out on me," Baumgartner explained.

Carrell asked whether he had ever freaked out on Baumgartner.

"No," Baumgartner said. "You just tell me to keep my grades up."

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