KENNEWICK — Kennewick police Officer Chris Buroker knows the halls and campus well at Kamiakin High School.
As the school resource officer, he is supposed to know what students are doing at the Kennewick school, especially if they are doing something criminal, but Buroker’s Kamiakin link goes back well before his assignment in May.
Buroker is a 1987 Kamiakin High grad who excelled in football and wrestling. His name even hangs on a board in a hall near the cafeteria and on two banners in the lower gym, highlighting his success as a wrestler.
In 1986, he qualified for the state tournament in the 190-pound weight class, and as a team, the school finished 15th at state. The next year, Buroker wrestled in the unlimited weight class and was the only heavyweight for Kamiakin to ever go to state.
“I tell people the only reason I came to high school was sports,” he said.
Now, Buroker, 43, is back at his alma mater every day of the school week after jumping at a chance to become the school resource officer.
“This is like a city within a city,” he said. “And within my city here, I get tasked with all kinds of things. It’s like working patrol, you never know what’s going to happen.”
On a recent day, Buroker spent his morning completing paperwork about a prescription drug incident at Highlands Middle School that he got called about the day before, and took a report from a student who said she thought she was being stalked.
He wears two radios — one that is connected to the dispatch center and other officers on patrol, and one that works just at the school so administrators or security officers can reach him.
“I stay very busy. If it’s not (kids with) narcotics, it’s calling mom up (about an incident),” he said. “To have the ability to have SROs at each high school is really beneficial.”
Buroker, who attended Columbia Basin College and Eastern Washington University, where he majored in criminal justice and minored in military science, has been a Kennewick police officer since 1996.
He spent five years on the SWAT team, five years with the traffic unit and was a field training officer for about seven years.
He met his wife, Brenda, on the job. She used to be a school resource officer at Southridge High School, now teaches the law enforcement class at the Tri-Tech Skills Center.
Chris Buroker also has spent 24 years in the Army National Guard reserves, and now is a a major with the 122nd Public Affairs unit at Camp Murray.
He moved to the Tri-Cities with his dad in 1984 after his parents divorced. Being raised by a single parent who worked full time, Buroker said he leaned a lot on his wrestling coach, Ernie Chapin.
“He had a huge impact on my life,” said Buroker, adding that’s why he knows “the relationship you have with students and staff is just huge.”
It took just a couple of minutes on campus recently to see just how much some students look forward to seeing and talking with him.
“When me and Officer Buroker talk it puts a smile on my face,” said Kristin Cochran, 17.
Buroker, who has two kids of his own, said he has spent a lot of time listening to Kristin, trying to help give her some guidance, and just be a trusted adult that she can turn to.
“For me, with my personal experience and understanding what I went through, I understand Kristin. I relate,” he said.
And, just like when he was in school, Buroker said there are a lot of kids trying to fit in by hanging out with the wrong crowd. He tries to work with staff members to identify those kids and help them make better choices.
“Ninety to 95 percent of the time, kids are here to do the right thing,” he said. “It’d be great if I came here and didn’t arrest anyone, but I know that’s not going to happen.”
Still, Buroker admits he had to adjust his perception of kids and how he dealt with them.
“The kids I would contact at Sixth and Gum at 1:30 in the morning — it’s a different personality,” he said. “When I came here I brought that perception of how I’m going to interact with kids.”
But, Buroker quickly learned he had to tone things down after he started chewing out a kid who started a fight, and the boy started crying.
Buroker said he also saw a change in himself last month after he had to arrest a 14-year-old boy who had an airsoft gun at school. The boy presented it as a real gun, and Buroker and other officers entered the student’s class with guns drawn and handcuffed him.
“As we dragged him out, I could see a couple kids were in tears,” Buroker said. “So I immediately ran back in to class to talk to them. That’s the SRO mentality.”
School officials said school resources officers are important. Lorraine Cooper, the Kennewick School District spokeswoman, said the ability to have SROs develop positive relationships with students and staff helps create a safe learning environment.
“Everything that happens at the school is a reflection of the community,” said Kamiakin High Principal Chris Chelin. “By having a strong law enforcement presence here, it lets the students feel safer and lets the staff feel safer.”
Chelin said Buroker is a great resource, but he also has strong interpersonal skills that helps him develop trust and be someone students can turn to.
“He’s got such a great rapport with all the kids,” Chelin said. “ He’s the type of person who’s always willing to go above and beyond for everybody around him. We love him.”