DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Gabriel Uribe has been in law enforcement since 2014, and his first school resource officer (SRO) assignment will be at a school still healing from tragedy.
“I was asked, ‘Gabe, what do you think about going to STEM?’ and right away I said 'yes.'”
Deputy Uribe spoke exclusively to 9NEWS before his first day on-duty Wednesday. STEM School Highlands Ranch was the site of a shooting on May 7 that took the life of Senior Kendrick Castillo while he was protecting his classmates. Several other students were injured.
Deputy Uribe is one of 28 SROs who will patrol Douglas County Schools by the end of the school year, seven more than last year. More money was allocated to the program after the shooting at STEM School.
Schools and the County are sharing the cost, with each school paying $65,000 a year for their SRO, and the county covering the remainder, which is about $180,000 according to the Douglas County Sheriff'sOffice.
In total, the Douglas County Commissioners allocated more than $13 million toward school safety and mental health resources. About $130,000 is going to a new Youth Community Response Team. Schools will apply for what they need with $10 million, and $3 million will go towards school resource officers like Deputy Uribe.
We asked STEM School’s new SRO questions for curious parents, students and faculty:
Editor’s note: Some of the responses have been edited for clarity and length.
How did you get this assignment?
Uribe: I applied to be an SRO with the agency back in January, and once I was able to be assigned to the team, I was approached by my command staff, and he asked me if I was interested in being assigned to STEM School as their SRO for the 2019 school year.
STEM School Students are dealing with very specific stressors. How are you planning to handle these challenges?
First of all, I want to be there for them. I want to be visible. I want to be present. I want them to feel safe knowing that I’m there, knowing that we’re working hard to make them feel safe.
I would like them to feel that they don’t only have a deputy SRO at the school. I want them to understand that they have a human being, they have a person with a name that is there showing concern to what they are going through, to their day-to-day activities.
I just want them to know me -- getting to know me by the person that I am, but also by the law enforcement officer that I am.
What’s your day-to-day going to look like?
Just walking around, high fives with the kids, just talking to them, let them make that face when I talk to them and they hear my accent and they say, ‘what are you saying?’ Just show that interest. I want to have fun with them. I want them to get to know me. I want to get to know each one of them, and just be visible to them.
I was at STEM yesterday and actually, I visited the music room, and it was fun to be there. The director was telling me, “All the kids are going to have fun playing guitar with you!” Maybe show them some salsa dancing, something like that! Make them feel like kids, and just have a lot of fun.
Does your background help you with this assignment?
Well, that’s a long story, but if I can make it short -- I grew up in Venezuela. I grew up back in a country where the relationship between law enforcement and the community is very poor.
Once I came to the United States, and I saw the positive perception and the support that the community gives the law enforcement officers, I immediately wanted to be a part of that.
I fell in love with the career. I don’t want to romanticize what I’m doing, but I fell in love with the career and, right now, I have the opportunity to combine these two things. I want to be a positive adult role model for these kids, and also I want to include the fact that I am a police officer, I’m a deputy with Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, into that equation.
What would you tell a student who is worried about going back to school?
I want you to be safe. I want you to feel safe. We’ve been working hard since the incident in May. We’ve been working hard to be ready for this school year.
We have the support of the community. The school has been working hard with us as well.
I’m going to be there at the school. I want you guys to know that when you see me, just feel free to approach me. If you have questions, just come and ask me. If you have concerns, just share them with me.
We’re going to have so many different personalities, so many different kids, so many different fears just coming together in one place, but I’m open and willing just to sit down and be there for each one of you.
What’s your message to parents?
Just understand that we will be there at the school. I want you guys to feel safe. I want you to encourage your kids again to be kids. I want you to encourage your kids to enjoy school, to enjoy this stage in your life that they are going through.
All I wanted to do as a kid was to enjoy school, do the regular things that I used to do as a kid, and I want parents to encourage their kids to do the same thing – come to school, find me if you want, find any person from the staff, interact with us.
[Parents should] go back to day-to-day activities. Go back to work. If you are home, go back to home, and feel confident that we are doing everything we can to make a huge positive impact in your kids at school and that’s my goal. That’s my plan.
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