Military and Police

School Resource Officers Return to a New Class of Challenges

Some students across the country have returned to class while others are about to board yellow buses today and engage academic rigors among some familiar and not so familiar faces. So, too, is the case for school resource officers who are extraordinarily charged with securing academic campuses against predators and mass-shooting potential. That, in addition to the usual array of many hats performing various duties other than police work, tops the list of concentrations for not only cops but for parents, guardians, teachers, and school administrators.

The past few academic school years engendered steps to abate potential attacks against such target-rich environments. Much has transpired over the summer break. Notably, local and state governments beefed up their school districts by allocating millions of dollars and legislating for a bevy of school resource officers be present at each and every public school.

In March 2018, the Associated Press offered a glimpse of Florida’s progress in the arena of filling its schools with SROs and other armed personnel:  “Florida legislators this month approved a $400 million school safety proposal that includes $97 million for more school resource officers and $67 million for the ‘school guardian’ program.”

A separate breakdown of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act outlined Florida’s legislative allocations: “The law requires sworn law enforcement officers to be stationed in every school in the state. The act gives $162 million to schools to help meet that requirement. Every school resource officer is required to undergo crisis intervention training. The law also designates $99 million for districts to address specific safety needs at their schools. The law specifically mentions that the funding can go toward metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks. The state Department of Education and the Office of Safe Schools will provide the grants.

“Finally, the law gives $28 million to expand mental health service teams to serve youth with mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other services,” explained Campus Safety Magazine.

In March 2018, the Florida Senate passed the bill School Public Safety Act, elaborating on both the bill’s funding disbursements and intentions via press release.

On August 4, 2018, mere days away from schools reopening for the new academic year, “Eighty-seven men and women were sworn in as armed school ‘guardians’…in Lakeland, Florida… The graduates are members of the [Coach]Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which was created after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Army veteran Justin Dunn said Saturday on ‘Fox & Friends’ that he will be stationed at an elementary school to protect the children there,” a Fox News Insider report revealed.

Army Vet Takes Oath to Protect Schools

“Coming into this job gives me a huge sense of pride. I haven't felt something like this since I was in the military” –Army veteran Justin Dunn on becoming a Parkland armed school guardian

Posted by Fox & Friends on Saturday, August 4, 2018

Now that varied legislation is aligning with tighter, hardened school security measures and relative omnipresence of armed police and security personnel—and in some cases, armed teachers—the widespread worries of yesteryear are not necessarily obsoleted in school environments but have a better fighting chance to thwart peril on the periphery.

Not Just Mass Shootings

It is not just the possibility of mass shootings raising the specter of what SROs do each school day. Preemptive strategies are rudimentary all the time, heightened by traumatic events witnessed last year and the preceding years. SROs securing students safely within the confines of campuses or open-air terrain belonging to school districts is certainly a tremendous responsibility.

Commonplace among SROs is the proverbial open-door policy so that kids know they can go to Officer Friendly whenever they encounter a bully, a domestic dilemma at home, a subject-matter difficulty, or just advice on any topic under the sun.

I was reading material regarding the stresses youngsters are under nowadays and how social media plays a huge role in that unfortunate circumstance. I reviewed child/adolescent psychology journals, denoting how hormonal attributes coupled with an increasing difficulty to cope among a taxing society with unrelenting change and diminishing values burdens young minds beyond what many of us experienced as kids.

This Officer

In the first moments of this school year, a Facebook poster became privy to a young boy who broke down at school. As the boy wept, simmered, and cocooned within his extremities folded on the school hallway floor, a Phoenix school resource officer did what cops do best: relate and resolve. Remember the loose but applicable lesson Get down to a kid’s level to gain rapport? That simple nugget played a role in my police career many times, as it did during the duty of this one particular Phoenix policeman, illustrated in our story’s feature photo.

The Facebook poster wrote the following words to accompany that picture: “Those that do the most, those that go above and beyond are those that are rarely recognized. This amazing officer is one of those people. This officer always does more than is expected of him. This officer is loved and respected by the community. This officer is humble. This officer has a heart of gold.

“I am so grateful to have captured this tender mercy. A student was having a difficult time, was screaming and inconsolably crying, saying sad and negative things about himself. This officer looked through the eyes of this student and immediately showed mercy. This officer spoke softly to the student, letting him know that he did matter, that he was important, that he was loved. This officer helped this student understand that we all make mistakes and that those mistakes do not define who we are and we just learn from them and move on.

“This officer is one of the many kindhearted that go unnoticed for his good deeds. This officer is the example we all need. I am honored to call Officer Baubie my friend.” I suspect the author of those supportive acknowledgements is a school teacher or an administrator at the school to which Officer Baubie is assigned SRO duties.

Different Kind of Duty

Trumpeting aside, SROs have far more contact with students and effect much more change than what is known to most folks. Surely, the media only cares to report violence in schools while making the SROs look like warmongering neanderthals. Far from the truth! The walking encyclopedia of problem resolution tactics and success stories is actually the SRO himself/herself. Most often, impromptu hallway banter leads to influence whereby otherwise shy or hesitant youngsters open up to the police officer(s) assigned to the school environment. Most do, anyway; others come to school infected by prejudices indoctrinated by parent(s), so they treat cops like they are Kryptonite. Despite that, SROs still reach out to those who seem intentionally distant.

Although I never served in the SRO role when I was in law enforcement, my cohorts shared bittersweet sagas involving kids who were walking around with a planet on their shoulders, from abuse at home to identity crises to poverty. In effect, I often likened SROs to the clergy: hearing sensitive-nature confessions and absolving pains from deep-seated burdens buried within…sprinkled with resolutions catered by the justice system. It takes quite a humanistic perspective and an approachable persona to excel at school-based policing.

Before donning the uniform, SROs are humans with a sense of humor. This factor was illustrated by Shelby County, Alabama sheriff’s office Sergeant Nathan Kendrick, a school resource officer whose “first day of school” picture demonstrated a less-than-gleeful expression. Perhaps he has been at the school too long and adapted to the classic universal attitude of youngsters when they learn it is time for brain reinforcements instead of playground antics and plain ole chillin’.

Sporting his Spidey-man lunchbox, school resource officer Sergeant Nathan Kendrick displays an expression telegraphing the first day of school blues. (Credit: Facebook/Shelby County Sheriff’s Office)

Despite the arduous duty days at schools across the nation, where SROs are pulled in so many different directions, often all at once, these specialized cops derive vast amounts of pride in shaping students in varying ways. Via an interview on Fox & Friends, Sgt. Kendrick called being a school resource officer “the best-kept secret in law enforcement.” Here are a few other SROs who wholeheartedly agree with him, and they offer their reasons.

Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts police Officer Jillian Sedlier works as a school resource officer at her jurisdiction’s high school. Officer Sedlier told The Vinyard Gazette that, “It’s more personal working at the school. You see kids and their parents, and it’s like a whole other layer of the community. No matter where you go, you’re going to see someone you know.”

Edgartown, Massachusetts police Officer Stephanie Immelt, a 17-year police veteran, and Chilmark, Massachusetts police Officer Elizabeth Rogers also work as school resource officers in Martha’s Vineyard. New England reporter Holly Pretsky said of these policewomen, “…the time they spend in schools and with children is a highlight of the job. Kids recognize them in uniform or not, and never allow them to forget their influence.” Influence!

National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) provided its estimate of between 14,000-20,000 SROs serving in schools nationwide. I suspect with recent legislation across the country, there are more than that. Either way, that’s an abundance of influencers to make great impressions upon young lives.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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