Officers will soon begin 15th year of service at schools
Jul. 30, 2017
ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — Specially dedicated resource officers are becoming a part of the fabric of more schools in ways that often go unnoticed.
In Rapides Parish, which was the first place in Louisiana where school-based police were introduced on every public and private campus 14 years ago, positive results have been associated with the multimillion-dollar program funded by a half-cent sales tax.
Initially, incidences of gun violence including at schools led to an expansion of programs that have placed more than 30,000 school resource officers and an additional 52,000 security guards and sworn police officers working in schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
And although providing campus security is still their most clear-cut job, other roles officers fill are less so.
A case in point is George Williams, who became a school resource officer in 2003, hoping to reach the youth he was encountering on the streets as a city police officer sooner.
"I felt like maybe if I could get in touch with these kids at an earlier age, I would do more good," he said.
In the eyes of law enforcement officials, Williams embodies the ideal school resource officer, a positive adult role model striving to be a mentor and force for good in the lives of kids from Alexandria's toughest neighborhoods.
"You get a chance to put back into them and just hope they pass it on to somebody else," Williams said. ". It has paid big dividends. There have been a few that ended up in trouble, but if you can save some, it's worth it."
Crime in schools
To be sure, there are legitimate crimes of concern to parents happening at schools that resource officers also deal with.
Last year, a total of 152 out of 527 reported incidents resulted in criminal charges, according to the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office. Seventy percent of them happened on junior high and high school campuses.
Incidences of drug activity, assault or battery and accidents on private property were the highest, accounting for half of all crimes investigated at schools.
Eight percent of those incidents, which would be at least 12, were battery or assault on a teacher.
The Sheriff's Office issued a total of 35 juvenile citations or arrests.
But Capt. Travis Davidson, who oversees the resource officer program, said crime is by no means rampant on local campuses. The main thing causing more problems than in the past is drugs, he said.
"We saw some increase this year compared to last year with the amount of (drug-related) incidents, but as far as the whole parish, it's not bad," he said.
The Sheriff's Office declined to release a breakdown of where individual crimes happened, thereby identifying school personnel as complainants.
Based off media reports from recent years, school resources officers have been responsible for:
The tip that led Rapides Parish sheriff's detectives to a man accused in the rape of a child
Arresting a student who brought a handgun to Peabody High School after investigating reports made by other students
Helping track down the suspects accused of burglary and vandalism at Tioga High School
"Our school resource officers played a big role in solving that for us," Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton said.
Prepared for the worst
Hilton emphasized that one of the roles officers do not fill is that of a disciplinarian. They generally only become involved when students pose a threat to themselves or someone at the school.
"We're there for the safety of the students," Hilton said. "We do not get involved in discipline unless the principal or the administration asks us to do that. That's not our role. Our role is strictly safety of the schools."
The priority still remains being prepared for the worst-case scenario.
That's why all school resource officers are highly-trained in some of the same ways as Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT officers, Davidson said.
He said they go through an initial 40-hour basic class and a 24-hour advanced class offered by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and take part in an additional two weeks of training including active-shooter exercises every year.
The annual Sheriff's Office training wrapped up last month, and soon all 66 officers will return to schools to meet with administrators.
"At the start of the school year, they go through emergency action plans ... they're going to actually have team meetings to decide who has what responsibilities and then have drills," Davidson said.
"(They're) always prepared for the worst," Lt. Tommy Carnline said. "And 99 percent of the time, nothing happens. That's what we hope for."
The National Association of School Resource Officers outlines dozens of roles effective officers fulfill including those of a mentor, counselor and role model in a report responding to national dialogue questioning whether school police contribute to a "school-to-prison pipeline."
According to the group, school resource officers, at a minimum, help to minimize campus disruptions and provide a sense of security, especially for adults, whether they are staff or parents.
But ideally their positive interactions with students outweigh the negative ones.
For Williams, that's been the case, and it's allowed him to build relationships that make a difference even when he is on patrol in neighborhoods over the summer.
"It's low-profile, but they (students) know I work hard for them," said Williams, who has worked at Hadnot-Hayes S.T.E.M. Elementary in south Alexandria since 2003.
Williams later started volunteering as a coach after school and recently helped to raise money to buy a vehicle so students without dependable transportation can still play sports and attend extracurricular school activities.
There are other examples of officers making a difference, like Deputy Joseph Glasper at L.S. Rugg who's been visible in the community through outreach efforts, Carnline said.
Then there are things that few people will ever hear about, like last year when an officer was able to get help for students he suspected were going without food.
"Because of the relationships, we've prevented problems, we have observed and brought to light incidents that may have gone unnoticed and gotten people the help and resources they need," Carnline said.
"When we started this program, we had trouble getting officers to fill the position," Hilton said. " . Now everybody wants to be a school resource officer."
That partially speaks to a growing emphasis on police-community relations among law enforcement.
Williams said the breakdown of families also contributes to agencies feeling the need to provide positive adult intervention in the lives of kids.
"It's put more pressure on law enforcement and social services," he said. "The ball is in our court."
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com