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A constant presence _ Orem High’s resource officer

March 30, 2018

In this Thursday, March 22, 2018, photo, Dan McKown, the Orem High School resource officer, writes the license plate of a car that the K-9 dogs identified as potentially containing narcotics in the parking lot of the school in Orem, Utah. (Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via AP)

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Dan McKown, Orem High School’s resource officer, glances at the clock, first period is still in session. McKown heads out to walk the hallways for the first time that day. McKown estimates that he walks the entire school eight times a day. “It is about being seen,” McKown said as he passes through the hallways and back to his office.

The presence of McKown and other officers is a goal of Mike Browning, principal of Orem High School. “I love seeing Dan talking to kids in the halls,” Browning said. Browning explains that this relationship benefits the students and allows for corrective behavior to come in the framework of education.

The relationship between police and schools is something McKown didn’t grow up with, but has evolved over the course of his life.

“When I went to school, we didn’t have an SRO (school resource officer). Now, they have two,” McKown said about the changes at his alma mater in Odessa, Texas.

McKown initially started working as a resource officer at Lone Peak 19 years ago.

As first period ends, McKown heads back out of his office to the hallways to visit with the students as they head to the next class. As classes begin for second period, McKown meets with Patrol Sgt. Travis Anderson and Principal Browning to work on implementing a new system that aims to decrease response times for emergency situations. In these events, “time is of the essence, we are working on trimming seconds,” McKown said.

“We’re partnering with the police department, I want cops here as much as I can get them here, the more they know this building, the faster they can respond, the faster they can get here,” Browning said.

The presence of police was on display that day. Before lunch, six K-9 units arrived to train in the school’s parking lot. McKown sees these trainings as a chance to not intrude on the education, but to be vigilant with safety and policy.

Students lined the windows that overlooked the parking lot. They watched the police dogs weave in and out of the cars. McKown laughs as he explains that his daughter goes to Pleasant Grove, but she texted him about the police dogs at the school.

McKown smiles as he reads the last line of the text, “I’ve never felt more safe at school.”

To achieve this sense of security, McKown is not alone in the effort.

“Dan’s building relationships, our custodians are building relationships, our lunch ladies are building relationships and the teachers obviously,” Browning said.

The aim is to not isolate people and to create a culture that students feel safe and welcome to voice their concerns.

Even if students don’t feel comfortable to talk with anyone, the school is also promoting the use of SafeUT app, which is a tip line that provides real-time crisis intervention from one’s smartphone.

The advances in technology have also created issues for those who work in schools.

“Social media is an easy place to write things that they typically wouldn’t say in person,” McKown said.

The issues that arise from posts and messages are dealt with as they come to the administrators, but there is no perfect system for dealing with these yet. However, the messages on cellphones are evidence that usually wouldn’t be available in many circumstances.

In a normal day, McKown works with teachers and administrators to solve problems related to smoking, thefts, bullying, and paraphernalia.

“The only thing that is different is instead of cigarettes, they are now smoking e-cigs,” McKown said.

He will usually see two to four students in his office a day, but sometimes it is more than 10.

McKown sees his role very clearly, “To be here, this is my responsibility,” McKown said, “Whatever we can do to provide safety for students and comfort for parents we try to do.”

Safety in schools has been in constant discussion. Browning explains that in the last professional development day, there was a great conversation about the topic.

The conversation is happening at many levels. However, last week, it was unclear if Gov. Gary Herbert would call a special session to address gun violence and school shootings, which was suggested by some lawmakers.

Other entities are becoming more involved too, Orem Police Department offered conceal-and-carry classes to teachers for free on March 17. Browning estimated that 50 teachers from the district attended. Utah state laws allow for permit holders to conceal and carry on school campuses, without having to notify the district or administration. McKown highlighted the fact that many of those in these trainings may choose to not carry after the class.

Browning would rather not focus on the politics of the topic, but the positives that are being implemented in his school. He highlights the standardized response training in the district and the 24-hour-or-less response time when issues are reported to a counselor at school.

Although McKown focuses his time mainly on Orem High School, he has a cluster of schools that he is responsible for. “I cover eight schools,” McKown said. It is usually thefts that will bring him to the other schools.

The benefit of a resource officer is clear to Browning, “We’re really pushing the idea that we need another officer in the junior highs, not because we are having so many crimes, but to start corrective behavior and build relationships.”

As second period ends, McKown glances at the large-screen TV on the wall in his office. Thirty-six cameras monitor different sections of the school at all times. Just last year, the school added six new cameras to the system. Even with the cameras, McKown continues to trust the safety of the school with his own eyes. McKown leaves his office and steps back out into the hallways.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com

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