First-year SRO found job he loves a learning experience

By Ron Burtz

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Custer school resource officer Matt Tramp took these Custer fifth- and sixth-grade students to Camp POSTCARD (Peace Officers Striving To Create And Reinforce Dreams) with him this week. The event at Outlaw Ranch allows law enforcement officers to build relationships with students, which Tramp says is part of his mandate from both the sheriff’s office and the school district. From left are Lane Graff, Brady Virtue, Zayden LaPlaca, Tramp, Ava Jaure and Ashlyn Snyder.

A great deal of learning took place during the just-completed school year, and one of those who learned the most wasn’t even a student in the traditional sense. Looking back over his first year as Custer School District’s first school resource officer (SRO), Custer County Sheriff’s Office deputy Matt Tramp says he learned many things about the job he didn’t realize going into it last fall.

“I thought I knew what I was getting into,” said Tramp recently as he sat in his patrol vehicle, where he will spend much of his time during the summer months. “I had a decent idea of it,” said Tramp, who added he didn’t realize the logistics involved in dividing his time between four schools. 

Those schools include Hermosa, the ACE alternative school at the Armory, jr./sr. high and elementary. 

“It’s nice that two are right next to each other so I can walk back and forth,” said Tramp, referring to the high school and the elementary school in Custer. 

Tramp, whose duties also included implementing the ALICE active shooter program in all the schools, had to do some juggling to make time for that training of students and staff, plus teaching the D.A.R.E. program to two fifth-grade classes in Custer and one in Hermosa.

At the jr./sr. high, where he had most of his law enforcement-related interactions with students, Tramp said he dealt with everything from fights to students having vapes and marijuana in school. He has even responded to reported rapes.  

“Basically anything that had to do with juveniles in Custer County kept me busy,” said Tramp, adding that dealing with sex crimes “seems to be a big part of my job.”  

Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley said last week that he believed Tramp’s presence in the school resulted in more reporting of crimes against students. Tramp said, while he doesn’t have specific data to support it, he hopes that is the case. 

“With being intentional and being involved in the lives of the kids,” said Tramp, “whether it be at games or dances or just being here at school with them and getting to know them…that kind of relationship lends itself to them reporting crimes that need to be reported, but aren’t as much as they should.”

While admitting to being a poor judge of his own performance, Tramp said he made it his goal to be available and approachable to students. Sometimes that means allowing kids to bring their lunch into his office at the jr./sr. high.  

And sometimes that is a bit too successful, Tramp raid, smiling. 

“I have to kick people out of my office in order to get phone calls made and … get stuff done at times, just because they feel comfortable,” he said. In addition to attending evening sports games, Tramp tries his best to make it to physical education classes regularly where he plays kickball or dodge ball with the students. 

He says such “goofing off” with kids is in line with his mission as stated by both the sheriff and school administrators who have encouraged him to build trusting relationships.

It appears to be working, because over the Memorial Day weekend when on a trip to Nebraska, Tramp had a chance meeting with a student who had stopped at the same gas station. He says the student felt free to come up and say “hi,” which he said is a big change from the beginning of the school year when students appeared less comfortable around him. 

One of Tramp’s most profound learning experiences came recently when he spent a week in Rapid City with other SROs at a training course put on by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).

He said, while the event was not as entertaining and interactive as other law enforcement training programs and involved a lot of sitting in class, the information he gleaned helped him to better “understand how I can be better utilized by the schools and by sheriff’s office alike.” 

He also learned more of his role as an SRO and what he is allowed and not allowed to do, according to the law. Tramp said he walks a fine line as an officer assigned to the school. 

“You’re considered school admin, but you’re a cop,” he said, adding that it was helpful for him to be taught more about fourth amendment issues and case law.

During the summer break, Tramp plans to put together lesson plans on various subjects so he is prepared to offer classes when needed. 

Tramp wants to teach students various subjects, such as the effects of methamphetamines, alcohol and tobacco, bullying and other subjects geared toward students in all grades. 

“I can be more used by the school,” said Tramp, adding that he might even do a class on constitutional law, which could help students know how to respond when they are involved in a traffic stop.  

“It never crossed my mind until I took this class,” said Tramp. “Even as a cop, it’s an intimidating thing to get stopped.” 

He said he might teach students, “What do we do in a traffic stop and what are your rights as a vehicle operator?”

He said such classes would be one more way to not only relay important information to students, but also to “be in front of them in a positive way and show them that we care.”

School administrators, like elementary principal Barb Paulson, agree that Tramp’s strategy for building bridges with the students is working. 

Paulson said when Tramp taught the ALICE program to students in her building it went smoothly because the students were already familiar with him. 

“Because the kids knew him already, it made that easier,” she said. “It wasn’t just somebody coming in from outside.”

Paulson also said, while there is not as much need for Tramp’s services in her K-6 classrooms, “It’s a comfort to know he’s there in the next building if we need him.”

Superintendent of schools Mark Naugle is also pleased with how the SRO program has gone in its inaugural year. 

“It’s been a great working relationship to have deputy Tramp in the schools and working closely with our kids and our administrators and our teachers in both Custer and Hermosa,” he said. “It’s worked for us and it’s worked for [the sheriff’s office] and that was the whole point.”

Naugle is also quick to agree with his principals that Tramp was the right man for the job. 

“They picked the right person, too,” he says. “That is such a key.”

Paulson said, from her interactions with Tramp, it’s obvious he loves what he does.

When asked whether that is true, Tramp is quick to reply. “I do. I do,” he says. “This is the best cop job I’ve ever had. I’ve worked for Game, Fish and Parks, I’ve worked for a police department. I’ve worked for sheriff’s office. They’re all great jobs, but the best cop job I’ve ever had is getting to be assigned to the schools. I didn’t know what I was missing out on. I love kids and I like helping people.”