by Tom Wetzel
With all the recent negative press our profession is getting, a lot of ideas are surfacing on how police officers can better connect with those they serve.
Some of the suggestions are benign while others will make for good quotes but little else. Certain perspectives will actually make sense, while some will endanger officers and should be ignored.
And there will always be a segment of society that will not be satisfied, no matter what police do to improve. We never want to write any group off, but we should be aware that gaining their trust will be a long road.
But there is one group we can reach, and they will help change the minds of those we have trouble reaching now. That group is the future of America—our grade-school children. Reaching out to them is vital, and the best way to do it is by expanding the role of the school resource officer (SRO). Those officers can teach youngsters valuable lessons at the same time they are developing the trust that is critical to keeping our neighborhoods safe places to live and thrive. Here are some teaching ideas for the school day schedule:
Morning Bell/First Period: The officer can start his or her day by watching the parking lot and school grounds as the kids begin arriving, prior to the morning bell. He or she can monitor the area for suspicious persons or unusual behavior and make sure the school is secure when classes start. While students are in the classroom during first period, the officer can follow up on other tasks as well as complete paperwork.
Second Period: The SRO can teach a class where “Stranger Danger” and traffic-safety issues can be addressed. Who better to warn students about bad people and dangerous situations than a cop? Plus, many children are already familiar with the role officers have with traffic safety from their participation in safety programs run by their local town.
Third Period: This timeslot can used to talk about internet safety issues via e-Copp, an educational children’s online protection program. These days students use computers and the internet for a lot of their school work, but due to their age, many are naïve about the dangers they can encounter. E-Copp teaches kids how to stay safe and protect themselves while they are online.
Lunch: Officers can use this time to monitor the cafeteria as well as the school grounds for suspicious persons or activity. It’s also a good time to engage in informal conversation with the students.
Fourth Period: The SRO could talk to the kids about bullying and how to avoid gangs—a serious concern for kids and families everywhere. The SRO has the opportunity to instill in children early on that bullying is wrong and his or her interaction with the kids may allow the SRO to recognize possible bullying situations within the students. Regarding gangs, officers can reinforce how participation in a gang leads to criminal activity and the bad outcomes of that behavior.
Fifth Period: The SRO can use this period to address the dangers of drug use. Because drugs have caused so much suffering to include the destruction of families, it is imperative that a major effort be made to instill the fear and knowledge necessary to help kids steer clear of this corrosion.
Sixth Period: The SRO would use this last period to address manners and conflict resolution as well as home-safety risk management. Kids need to learn how to behave and resolve issues without violence. This time also allows an officer to teach kids how to act when interacting with the police, which is such a topic of concern right now. The SRO can also warn students about all the risks they may find in their own home, whether it is unsecured weapons or dangerous chemicals.
Last Class/Closing Bell: While students are in their last class, the SRO can grade papers and check homework. Prior to the closing bell ringing, the officer can check the school grounds for suspicious persons or activity and then monitor the area while kids are leaving the school.
Special Assignment: This type of assignment for a police officer would be a very special one and allows them to have a major impact on building and developing trust within their communities. This trust would have a long-term impact for the officers and those we serve and may likely prevent the suspicions towards police officers that we are currently seeing today within our nation. In doing so, more American citizens will recognize the spiritual calling that officers have in being the “good guys” who try to stop the bad ones.
Tom Wetzel is a lieutenant in a suburban Ohio police department.