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Officers an added resource for school districts

Alissa Widman Neese • Aug 12, 2013 at 12:13 PM

The district will employ its first school resource officer this year — a full-time officer specifically appointed to patrol the middle and high school buildings, also interacting with students and hosting various educational programs.

Belinda Rosenberger, an 11-year Fremont officer, landed the job.

To read about the ALICE program, another method schools are using to bolster student safety, click here.

A PDF of a chart with data about area resource officers is listed below.

Fremont Schools wanted to fill the role for quite some time, but had difficulties finding the money until recently, superintendent Traci McCaudy said.

"We really felt this was a priority for the district," McCaudy said. "Resource officers work with school personnel and maintain a safe campus environment, in addition to other fundamental roles."

Fremont Schools is prepared to fork out up to $65,000 for the new hire during the school year, mostly with tax funds generated by Ohio's new casinos. Fremont police will cover costs when school is not in session, but the department did not provide the Register with Rosenberger's total annual salary.

Rosenberger will attend special training classes in the next few months and will likely start patrolling school buildings in October, McCaudy said. She will monitor the campus before, during and after school and will also educate students on different issues.

"We'll be evaluating and revising anything as needed as we go through the school year," McCaudy said. "It's a new initiative for the district and the city of Fremont and we're excited to get started."

Local trends

Although they've existed for many years, school resource officers are a rapidly growing U.S. trend.

Acts of school violence — such as the 2012 shootings at Chardon High School in Cleveland and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — have prompted many districts to reconsider their emergency response plans and hire an armed officer.

About 75 percent of the state's 600-plus districts have at least one resource officer, according to the Ohio School Resource Officer Association.

Five of the 15 school districts in the Register's coverage area currently use a full-time resource officer during the academic year. Fremont, Huron, Sandusky and Vermilion schools employ one officer, while Perkins Schools employs two.

Leaders of some districts, such as Margaretta Schools, have discussed the possibility of hiring one. but have not made a decision yet.

Other districts have collaborated with local police departments to enhance school safety using more cost-effective measures. Danbury Schools, for example, created a free satellite office for Danbury police in its school building. While patrolling, officers will periodically check in to file paperwork, meet students and provide law enforcement services as needed.

"We decided an armed presence in our building wasn't a bad idea," Danbury Schools superintendent Dan Parent said. "We thought it would give our parents some comfort."

What do resource officers do?

On a typical school day, Sandusky police Officer Chris Rankins fulfills many roles. Often he's an educator, providing students with valuable information on bullying, stranger danger, laws, online threats and drug abuse prevention.

At times, he's a mentor, assisting school counselors or simply making himself available to students for friendly conversations.

And, in an unfortunate circumstance — if an intruder enters a building, or a student breaks a law, for example — Rankins will be the first to respond and control the potentially dangerous situation at Sandusky's middle and high schools.

"It's a good thing to have us there, just for the presence," Rankins said. "Basically, what I do on the street, I do at the school, but I also talk to students, answer their questions and enforce overall security of the building."

Overall, the goal of a school resource is twofold: to protect and serve, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.

The officers work closely with school administrators and staff, with the goal of making schools safer and also changing student perception of law enforcement. They also perform other little-known tasks, including directing traffic, creating crisis response plans and organizing community events, said Sgt. Dan McLaughlin, one of two Perkins Schools resource officers.

"To me, it's the best, most rewarding job in the world," said McLaughlin, a resource officer for 14 years. "Every student that graduates from our school system knows us personally because we're readily available to them. We want them to see officers as normal people."

In the summer, when students aren't in school, the officers are typically absorbed into a police department's summer staff, when criminal activity often increases and additional manpower is needed for patrols.

Funding woes

Ideally, all districts desiring a full-time school resource officer would hire one.

Such investments can cost a considerable amount, however, making some financially strapped districts unable to fund their newly implemented programs in the long-term.

"Of course we want the officers in the school, we think it's very important," Perkins Schools treasurer Lisa Crescimano said. "But we just can't afford it anymore."

In the wake of its second levy failure this year, Perkins Schools is re-evaluating its current school resource officer program, which has been funded in various forms since its inception. When Perkins Township was in a financial bind this past year, the district covered all of the program costs. When the Perkins Police Department secured additional funding through a voter-approved levy in May, it offered to fund the program for the remainder of 2013 until Perkins Schools could stabilize its budget.

After December, it's currently unknown how the program will be funded, or if it will exist at all.

"We'd love to keep them both through 2014, but we have to wait until we have a little better idea what both of our funding will look like going into the year," Perkins police Chief Ken Klamar said. "We think it's a very important program and we'll do anything we can to continue keeping it going at its current strength."

In school buildings throughout Sandusky, Huron and Vermilion, police departments have agreed to split the costs of their school resource officer with the districts in some form, with departments usually paying the officer's summer hours.

Are school resource officers necessary?

While resource officer programs are becoming increasingly popular, they aren't without critics. Much debate surrounds the need to house an armed officer in a school, and the potential message it could send to students.

Some suggest using the funds for violence-prevention programs, such as counselors who can help students with special needs.

Others question their effectiveness. An armed school resource officer was present during the deadly 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, for example, and did not prevent the massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two armed students.

Some civil rights groups also criticize creating a law-enforcement atmosphere in schools, suggesting it leads to an increase in juveniles being introduced to the criminal justice system.

"It is essential that the work of police on school campuses be guided by formal standards and policies," the American Civil Liberties Union stated in a recent report. "As the number of police officers on school campuses across the country continues to grow, there is a real risk that without concrete guidelines, student behavior will be unnecessarily criminalized and school environments will become increasingly toxic."

Friendly chatter

The Register asked some of its Facebook friends for their opinions on school resource officers:

•Zachary Dahlin: It's a great thing for schools to have a school resource officer. They're already there in the event of an active shooter or someone attempting to abduct a child or fights or anything else. They monitor the school daily for security risks that may endanger lives. They are a necessity in this day and age.

•Dorothy Ruffer: No guards, except for one at a metal detector at the only unlocked door. The guard need only be a teacher. Any student who enters and sets off the alarm does not enter until a designated person searches them.

•Anna Aceto: We need police officer presence so the students can establish rapport and know that they can go to them as a resource when needed.

•Rachel Lamb: Spend the money on art and music. Give the kids a creative outlet and watch the violence go down.

•Nathan Monday: I think a well-trained, armed resource officer with both non-lethal and lethal force options are the best protection we could allow for the children. They're a heavy deterrent for the criminally insane and provide not only quicker response but even possibly a direct line to first responders.

•Larry Tebeau: I totally agree with Nathan, but some would say, "Why pay an officer every day for something that may never happen?" Stop and think though, at least 90 percent of the younger members of the community, who may be up to something, are housed in these few locations. We're better to be proactive. Don't we pay officers to drive up and down our streets lest someone violate a traffic law?

•Shelby Whiting: I think it's an amazing idea. In school, everyone looked up to our resource officer and respected him. Yes, we had our fights, but not as many, and everyone always knew his door was open.

•Cynthia Leibacher: Society has taken away discipline from parents so therefore you need cops to do the parents' job. And they wonder why kids act the way they do?

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