In his first month in his new job as the Tukwila Police Department’s new school resource officer, Officer Adam Balcom got a taste of just what to expect.
A student passing by in the hallway knocked on the door to Foster’s security office. She was looking for gum and the office is known as the place to get some, especially from security officer KC Monson.
Balcom didn’t have any.
“I need to go buy some gum,” he said after the girl left.
Something as simple as handing out gum accomplishes two of Balcom’s goals: Breaking down barriers and building trust.
On his second day on Foster’s campus, a man walked onto campus, talking to a pet rock. He seemed to have some mental issues.
“It freaked the kids out,” Balcom said.
He explained that Foster is a closed campus, meaning permission is required to leave or enter school grounds. The man apologized and left.
The relatively benign encounter speaks to Balcom’s top priority: Keeping Foster’s campus safe.
Balcom took over as the school resource officer for Foster and Showalter in early January, replacing Officer Lisa Harrison, who held the post for 17 years. She’s now the Police Department’s training officer.
“That just tells you how committed they are to the school,” said city Administrator David Cline “And how much they enjoy doing that.”
Balcom is already receiving kudos from school and city leadership.
“His reputation is already renowned,” said Mayor Allan Ekberg.
He and the city are blessed to have good police officers supporting the SRO program, Ekberg said.
“Our SRO officer for the school district is just an asset,” he said.
Balcom has been with the Tukwila Police Department for seven years. He started on patrol and was then promoted to the community-policing team, where he participated in such events as the Shop With a Cop and the safety fair or played dodgeball in uniform.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, work with kids, work in the school,” he said of his new job. “It’s going to be fun.”
Balcom is the school resource officer for the entire school district but his focus in on Foster and Showalter. DARE officers tend to the city’s three elementary schools.
He starts most days out front at Foster, saying “hi” to students and sharing high-fives. The busiest time is the lunch hour, when he walks the halls, maybe plays some cards and visits and keeps an eye on what’s going on outside.
Foster has two security officers; one is Monson and the other is Elijah Ruhl, Foster’s football coach and like Balcom a graduate of Tahoma High School in Maple Valley.
There are three parts to Balcom’s job.
“Obviously since I am a law-enforcement officer, the first thing I do is school safety – safety for the students, safety for the staff,” he said, enforcing the law and ensuring that Foster’s closed campus is kept secure. His intent is safety, not patrolling for truants.
The “cool part” is working as an informal counselor or a teacher-coach type role. He can teach in a class in small blocks, fielding questions about government or civics.
And he has the freedom to volunteer in the school district, such as coaching. Balcom was a standout baseball player at Tahoma High School and then in college in Kentucky.
“It’s basically to be a role model and it’s to show the students and staff that this is just the job I do,” he said. “Police officers aren’t scary or they’re not out to hurt anybody.”
The SRO program exists to foster relationships between young people and police officers, Balcom said. In Tukwila, that takes on an added dimension, given the school district’s status as one of the most diverse in the nation.
“Our community is so diverse that there could be misconceptions about police, hesitation, misunderstandings, especially when you come from a different country where there could be legitimate police corruption,” he said.
He wants to show everyone, “We are here to help,” he said. “They can trust me. They can talk to me.”
Mayor Ekberg shares that vision.
“The kids need to see law enforcement in an active state,” said Ekberg. “And when they interact with law enforcement, they get a different level of understanding of their job and what they do.”
At the same time, there’s an officer on duty to ensure the schools are safe and there’s someone in law enforcement to interact with teachers, counselors and administrators if there’s criminal activity, Ekberg said.
Balcom said he wants to serve on the management team that oversees the school’s emergency response team, so he can act as liaison between the Police Department and school district for planning any type of emergency response.
Balcom said his age – he’s 31 – “absolutely helps” his relationship building with students. He bounces his “bright ideas” off his wife Cassidy, who was a teacher at Tahoma High School before they started their family. She’s pointed out that teachers are “way to busy” to discuss some of his ideas, so maybe an email would work.
The Balcoms have volunteered for their church’s youth groups, too.
“It’s a big duty but it’s the most broad and rewarding thing you can do,” Balcom said of his job. “I am just brand new. I am still learning. The kids are still learning me, who I am. Obviously, you have to build that trust. It takes time.”
The goal? To show he’s just a regular person who’s there to keep their school safe, and, if necessary, explain or enforce the law.