School resource officers focus on education, safety

Saturday, October 25, 2008 | 8:27 p.m. CDT; updated 11:33 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 13, 2010

COLUMBIA —When a fight that occurred at Hickman High School Oct. 15 was videotaped and posted to YouTube, many residents learned for the first time that police officers are placed in Columbia schools. The navy-clad officers aren't security guards — they are active members of the Columbia Police Department stationed in middle, junior and high schools.

During the spring semester, Lange Middle Resource Officer Brian Grove, along with the two other school resource officers at Smithton and Gentry middle schools, were pulled from their school posts to help re-enforce manpower on the streets.

School resource officers in Columbia Public Schools are helping students see beyond the handcuffs and blue lights they associate with police officers. The officers serve as liaisons between the Police Department and the school in which they serve, but the responsibility doesn't stop there. Resource officers also educate and advise in their positions.

Officer John Warner, who is in his seventh year as a resource officer at West Junior High School, said he enjoys helping students see another side to police officers.

“Connecting in a positive way has been my favorite part of the job,” Warner said.

For Warner, the biggest difference between working at the schools and working on the streets is dealing with the counselors, parents and students on a daily basis.

An average day for a school resource officer means patrolling the school grounds and hallways and helping with problems or concerns that arise in and around the school, for example when one student bullies another. Parents will also bring concerns about their children's interactions with others to a resource officer.

Warner said he has found most problems arise from things that occur in neighborhoods, which are later brought into school. He said he likes to keep in touch with the road officers to see what is going on in the surrounding neighborhoods.

To be eligible for the position, an officer must have at least three years of experience with the Columbia police, undergo a personnel review, write a letter to the officer's supervisor and have an oral interview with school and police administrators including Sgt. Eric White of the Columbia Police Department's community youth services.

After going through a training program, the officer is then put in charge of programs such as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, the Columbia Police Department Youth Academy and the Columbia Police Department Cadet Corps, in which students work directly with the police officers.  

Grove said the training helps get the officers in a school mindset. In training, the officers attend classes that cover issues such as bullying, drugs, alcohol, home safety, personal safety, traffic safety and law.

"(It helps them) to become more comfortable in the classroom with children," Grove said.

Grove said officers can take additional training sessions as well as attend conferences conducted by the Missouri School Resource Officers Association.

For Warner, the chance to leave an impression on the students is a benefit of the job.

"I get to see the fifth graders that I taught (in the DARE program) come to school as eighth- and ninth-graders," Warner said. "It's rewarding that I know them and they know me."

The school resource officer program has been implemented in more than 40 states since 1951 and began in Columbia in 2000.

Columbia Public Schools pays for roughly 60 percent of the officers' salaries at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, and the city handles the remaining portion, as well as the total salary for officers at the middle and junior high schools, according to White.

Except for Douglass High School, one school resource officer can be found at each Columbia middle, junior and high school, totaling eight officers. Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools and Lange Middle School rotate new officers every three years and once the officers depart from their position at the school, they return to regular patrol. The other five officers have permanent positions.

It's important that the officers make sure students feel protected, Warner said, and that students learn there are consequences for their actions. He enjoys the teaching part of the job, whether it's going over the law in a government class or the impact of alcohol in a health class.

“You actually feel like you’re making a change in someone’s life,” Warner said. 

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Ray Shapiro October 26, 2008 | 5:35 p.m.

Respect and support your school resource officer and he/she will support you...

(Report Comment)
Shannon Hale October 27, 2008 | 10:02 a.m.

Once again I will reiterate myself:
I think what Officer Mark Brotemarkle did at Hickman High School was appropriate regarding the latest school fight. In an age where there is so much violent behavior and disrespect from teenagers the officer did what was necessary to take immediate control of the situation.
In my opinion if a fight breaks out in a public school it is the job of every student around the people fighting to NOT GET INVOLVED, and to get out of the way; because obviously adults with authority will be showing up, to break it up.

A fight broke out on school property, and two female teenagers who took it upon themselves to not only endanger each other, but their peers around them. This is the type of selfish and inconsiderate behavior that is continually displayed by Hickman students these days. I feel like every student that was in the immediate viewing area of this fight and stood by to watch, and not leave the situation, should stand to be disciplined.

I am sure the girl in yellow, Diamond, had nothing but good intentions, but she is not a police officer, school official, or a person with any command. She made the personal choice to step in and get involved, it was her choice; and all choices come with consequences. Diamond made the choice of interjecting her opinion, and physical self into this chaotic situation and then is upset that she got hurt, and thrown around.

Hickman has had several instances in recent history where fights are occurring, and weapons are being confiscated. Diamond stated that she got “hurt for doing the right thing”, I say you should of stayed out of the way and let the adults do their job, then well…….you would not be in this situation.
“The way he handles things is not acceptable.” I say the way Hickman students handle things are far less acceptable then the adults who have to handle the students; and the crappy choices they make and/or the situations they cause.
Doesn’t Hickman have a school policy on how students should respond when a fight breaks out? Does the policy state, stand around the fight and cheer and STAND in the way? Or for everyone to WALK AWAY, so the insolent students who decide to fight realize they are just that, ignorant, and deserve no attention at all. If only Diamond could realize how pitiful her judgment appears too the public, she would probably not be giving such pathetic quotes to the Tribune.
Clearly common sense is what is lacking for all of these students, by either the ones fighting or the ones standing, watching and video taping or the one trying to “help”.

I feel like the parents who are signing petitions to have the officer removed also need to sign a similar petition to have the two teenage girls who were fighting removed and sent to Douglas. They are violent and disruptive and clearly lack the appropriate judgment that is required in a public school setting.

(Report Comment)

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