SRO job all about building trust

By Ron Burtz

The Custer School District's school resource officer (SRO), Deputy Matt Tramp, poses for a photo that was posted on the Custer Elementary School's Facebook page. Tramp will provide armed security at the schools, but the primary goal is for him to establish a relationship of trust between law enforcement and students. Scan this photo with the My Black Hills Country app to see Tramp introduce himself.

Deputy Matt Tramp didn’t look much like a law enforcement officer as he sat at the desk in his new office at Custer Jr./Sr. High School on Thursday morning. Dressed in a button-up shirt and black pants, apart from the sidearm, handcuffs and badge on his belt, Tramp looked like any other teacher or administrator. And that’s just fine with him. 

Tramp says trading a traditional uniform for “business casual” attire is key to achieving his primary goal of building trusting relationships with students—a goal shared by school and sheriff’s office leaders alike. 

“The number one objective is to make sure kids are safe at school,” said Custer superintendent Mark Naugle, but he adds, “More important is the relationships the resource officer will build with students and the trust that can develop in the sheriff’s deputies. I think that is invaluable.” 

Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley agrees, saying that, while it’s important to have an officer in the school for security purposes, he wants Tramp to primarily build rapport with the children, teach classes like anti-bullying and the D.A.R.E. curriculum and be a liaison between his office and the schools. 

“They’re not there just to be an armed security guard,” he said. 

Both the sheriff and the superintendent agree that Tramp is the right person for the job. 

“When he started here, he expressed his willingness to do something like that,” said Mechaley, noting that on his own initiative Tramp has taken specialized training and he volunteered in the schools in his previous job as a Hot Springs police officer. 

Naugle says, while he only met Tramp for the first time in August, he is confident in the deputy’s qualifications. 

“Our principals have worked with Matt—all of them, in Hermosa and in Custer—and were very pleased that he was selected,” said Naugle. “They think he is the right person to work with our kids.”

That sentiment was echoed by both Jr./Sr. High principal Orion Thompson and elementary counselor Michelle Watland who said, “This young man is passionate about impacting kids, building relationships and making our schools safe and secure.”

For his own part, Tramp feels well-suited to the position. He has served as a volunteer youth leader at his church in Hot Springs for the past 11 years and says he loves all kids, but especially enjoys working with middle and high school youth. 

“When I worked for the Hot Springs police, I tried to spend as much time as I could in the schools there,” he says. 

And he has certainly jumped right into the job since the school year started Aug. 22. He has spent time over the last two weeks getting to know students on an informal basis, “eating lunch with them and today I played kickball with them in Hermosa.”

Tramp has had several opportunities already to act in his law enforcement capacity in the school as well. 

“I’ve already used him about three times,” said Thompson. 

Tramp says in the first week he dealt with a weapon in school (“without intention to harm others, but in violation of law and school rules.”), a report of child neglect and “a fight that we were able to prevent.” 

Tramp says the altercation was supposed to take place after school in the parking lot. 

“We caught wind of it and were able to go be there when they arrived,” he says, much to the surprise of the feuding students. 

Mechaley says his office sent Tramp to Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training where the deputy learned how to deal with active shooter situations.  The sheriff says his plan is for Tramp to be able to not only train school staff in the techniques, but to eventually offer training to health care facilities, government agencies and businesses.   

The sheriff is pleased that the new SRO will spend time each week in the Hermosa school, and says, in addition, patrol deputies will soon use a space in the school building there to write reports as a way to bring a law enforcement presence to the facility. 

The casual rapport Tramp has with students became evident when during our interview, a middle school boy came into the room and asked, “Is there a Bass Pro Shop hat in here?” 

Without missing a beat, Tramp cheerfully deadpanned, “Sold it. I auctioned it off. Got 25 bucks for it.” 

We don’t know if the student ever found his hat, but one thing is evident: Deputy Matt Tramp is comfortable around kids and is well on his way to building a relationship of trust with students in Custer County schools.