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In Their Own Words - The School Resource Officers Have Their Say

Now it's time to hear from the actual SROs in this "Armed and Friendly" series.

This is the fourth and final part of a series on the School Resource Officer - the purpose of the position, the funding for it and how it has changed, the imput from students, etc.  For ; for ; .

In previous columns we have examined the structure, details and goals of the SRO. We've looked at the opinions of parents and Morgan students, both current and graduated.

As promised, each of the four officers actual responses (without editing) are presented so you can get a real feel for their view of the issues and those whom we entrust with the safety of our children. I think it is a worthwhile read.

 

SRO RESPONSES:

 

JOHN CARBONE:  

What is the hardest part of the job?  Knowing that one day it will end and you will rotate back to patrol.  In my case I love, and loved, working in patrol.  Being at the high school is the modern version of walking a beat in a neighborhood.  You build relationships with the people involved and take ownership of protecting that 'beat.' When it draws to a close you naturally miss being around the students and faculty, most of whom were outstanding. 

What is the best part of the job?  In police work, especially working the midnight shift, we tend to deal with the worst 5% of society 95% of the time.  When I was assigned to the high school I was around great students and faculty all of the time and only a small percentage of my time was spent dealing with true criminals.  Most students who get into trouble are still good kids and respond well to being held accountable.  That's a far cry from the attitude of the professional shoplifting teams, drug dealers and drunk drivers that we encounter.  

What is the most frustrating part of the job?  Knowing that you can't be everywhere all of the time.  I have no tolerance for bullies.  So many students suffer quietly and we only find out about the problem after it has been going on for a while.  It is frustrating to see bullies victimizing nice, decent kids.  

What would you change if you could?  That is the simplest of questions.  Our department needs the backing to fill the SRO position full time.  I know how effective I was and  it was because I was at Morgan every day. Anything less greatly reduces the benefit.  Remember that no school tragedy ever occurred because an officer was present.

 

JEREMIAH DUNN:

What is the hardest part of the job? Understanding the difference between and then making the transition from "police officer" to "counselor," or vice versa. The School Resource Officer is just that….a "RESOURCE."  In my years of experience as a police officer (prior to becoming the SRO), I was taught and it was ingrained in my training, that an officer when handling a situation needs to get to scene quickly, take charge of that incident and render a decision as soon as possible based on the facts and circumstances present. If need be arrest someone or issue a ticket, or take no action at all. Ultimately clear yourself so you’re ready for the next call. Utilizing that approach I found was the complete opposite of what I believe will ultimately make someone a successful SRO. When dealing with students on a daily basis you quickly learn you are often dealing with very emotionally fragile individuals. When dealing with a problem that seems very trivial to most adults, could in the eyes of the student be the worst disaster imaginable to them. The SRO needs to understand that fact very quickly and use the appropriate tact and compassion. I actually found that utilizing this style of policing was very successful, and I actually was able to form a level of trust with many of the students I interacted with during my time as SRO. However making that transition took time and was at times very challenging.

What is the best part of the job? Without a doubt the best part of my tenure as SRO at Morgan was working daily with the faculty, staff and students. I could not have asked for a better quality of people to be with on a daily basis. To this day, I still keep in touch with many of the people I interacted with while I was the SRO at Morgan. From the get go, I was accepted into the Morgan community and treated very well by just about everyone I came in contact with. I really enjoyed that aspect of the job.

What is the most frustrating part of the job? In Law Enforcement there is management principle that is often used when dealing with a superior/subordinate relationship. That principle is known as “The Unity of Command." My understanding of that term is that a subordinate should only deal with one immediate supervisor and shall report directly to that same supervisor. I found that in the SRO position, there were often times when this principle could not be adhered to. As a police officer I had my police supervisors that I was responsible to report to and carry out their specific orders. However, I also had to communicate and take direction from the school administrators, (not only at the school, but from the central office as well). At times (but not too often), there were conflicting orders/messages being given to me (as the SRO) from both sides. This often put me in difficult situations. If I found myself in that position, I tried my best to mediate any conflicts that arose and handle the task at hand to the best of my ability, attempting to satisfy both my police superiors, as well as the school administrators.

What would you change if you could?  The changes I would make (if I could) is without a doubt, make the SRO position full time, 8 hours a day Monday through Friday. I would designate one officer to solely be the SRO at Morgan. I believe there must be continuity in personnel for the program to work successfully. It’s not fair to the SRO, the faculty or the students to have an SRO (or different officers substituting in this position) on site a mere 8-16 hours a week, with no specific set schedule. I was very lucky when I was SRO. I was required to stay at Morgan all day. If either of the other schools in town needed police assistance, the Departments youth officer or the patrol shift would respond to those individual requests, leaving me the time to conduct my duties fully at Morgan. Since my tenure as SRO at Morgan, that practice has changed. Now the SRO must be mobile. Quite frequently the SRO has been called out of Morgan to address other matters at the other schools. Unfortunately, these problems exist due to staffing levels and budget cuts beyond our control.

 

KYLE STRUNJO:

What is the hardest part of the job? I would have to say that the hardest and most frustrating part of the job is dealing with parents. The reason for this is there are quite a few out there that are very arrogant in believing that their child is incapable of doing anything wrong. This also makes the child believe that nothing is ever their fault and places blame on others. (Which is probably why I had to deal with them in the first place).

What is the best part of the job? The best part of the job is the interaction with the students, teachers and the community. The position was very demanding however very rewarding in the fact that most of the interactions were positive. I was able to meet many people in the community in a positive way which is difficult for a police officer since most of our interaction with people is negative and we are negatively perceived by the public. The SRO position gave me a chance to speak to students, teachers and the community in a way that was not adversarial and there is more to police officers than what they see on TV. There was one comment a mother told me that her daughter said to her that I will always remember, "Officer Strunjo is nice, he wasn't what I expected a police officer to be". On top of the fact that Police Officers in Schools are there to enforce the laws I believe that SROs are in schools to be approachable and show that the police are there to help. The SRO position was very enjoyable for me and was tough to leave.  I enjoyed the position so much that I turned down a promotion to Corporal to stay in the SRO position after my first year.

What would you change if you could? The one thing that I would change about the way the position is currently is to make it a fulltime position again. After I left the school for my promotion to Corporal myself and two other Officers did the job part time for the remainder of last school year. This year Officer Skeens is doing an exceptional job in a difficult circumstance, she is only at the Morgan and Eliot Schools part-time, this is a fulltime position!!! The demands of the position are far too great to do only on a part-time basis. The schedule says that the position is Monday through Friday 7am-3pm. However I know from experience and from watching Officer Skeens that this is not the case and there is a lot of things she does on her own time. As part of the position the officer is given a department cell phone this phone rings at every and any hour of the day with calls from various school officials and command staff from the police department to answer questions about the school or regarding problems at the schools. In conclusion the SRO is a fulltime position and needs to restored as such. 

 

ALLYSON SKEENS:

What is the hardest part of the job? Right now the hardest part is switching back and forth from patrol to SRO. I thought I was getting the best of both worlds - being able to stay in patrol and be in the school two days a week. But it makes follow-up and getting into a routine almost impossible. I feel like I'm pulled in a million directions and no one area can get appropriate attention.  The hardest part of specifically being an SRO is juvenile law. I understand that there is separate juvenile law to protect the rights of our youth, but it does make certain aspects of the job tough. Especially when timing is a factor, and I have to wait to speak with parents. Add that aspect to a high school where most students fall under juvenile status, but about a quarter of the population does not. I feel like I need to memorize every student's date of birth.

What is the best part of the job?  Being seen as a "resource" to some of the kids. When the students realize that I am a source of information, not the enemy, and engage in a normal conversation, it reinforces my belief in the SRO position.

What is the most frustrating part of the job?  The balance between the law and school rules. It is technically not my responsibility to enforce school rules, although I am happy to assist for the safety of the school. But its really frustrating when students walk by me talking on their cell phones, and I either attempt to take the phone to hand over to administration as per the school rule or simply remind them of the school rule, and they ignore me. Or if a student is roaming the halls during class - they normally don't have a pass, but they think I am harassing them if I ask them to get to their destination. Hall monitor is not part of my job description, but I feel it's important to the safety of the school, and then I get greeted with disrespect. At least violations of the law are generally cut and dry at the school.

What would you change if you could? Other than reinstating the full time position? "If I ruled the world" I think there should be an additional SRO in Eliot - first of all, so the students are not in shock when there is an SRO in the high school, and to reinforce acceptable school behaviors prior to high school. A large part of the SRO position is "putting out kindling fires" which the school might not even tell us about if we weren't here. But having a police officer present when the school passes down punishments and speaks to students about the consequences of their actions has a huge impact. The situation generally dissipates instead of erupting. So even though we don't get many calls from Eliot, they might use us more if they had direct constant access with an SRO in the school, and issues wouldn't carry over outside of school or into high school.

 

In closing I'd like to add another element to the question of solutions to the problems the SROs and the system are dealing with which I think we need to consider.

From a current high school student deep into sports, soccer in particular, and another college student, not particularly sports oriented, both of whom graduated from the same high school, in New York. After discussing how easy it was for students to get drugs in and around most schools, I asked "What would you suggest to solve the problem?" their response was, you stop it by not letting it get started.

And how do they propose to do that?... It starts in the home with good constructive parent child relationships, they both offered. Building an understanding of right and wrong, healthy activities or not. The parents being a good role model so the choices made by the children are the best possible. They also agreed that some will still end up making poor choices due to peer pressure, poor self esteem and the need to be accepted somewhere, but there are ways to help. They did not have an SRO in their school, but thought it was a good idea.

 

Until next time,

Arthur Isaacson

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