GREENFIELD — As thousands of Hancock County students were preparing to head back to school, this week a dozen police officers from across Indiana came to Greenfield to hit the books as well.
Law enforcement officials interested in becoming school safety officers gathered at the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center for training sessions hosted by the National Association of School Resource Officers. Among them were five members of Hancock County law enforcement who will soon take up posts in local schools, keeping children and staff safe.
School resource officers are uniformed, armed police officers stationed within schools to provide security and discipline while forging relationships with students.
They serve in a dual capacity as a school employee and a law enforcement official, and the association’s 40-hour class helps officers to better understand the line between those two realms, said D.J. Schoeff, a Carmel police officer and a regional director of the association.
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Schoeff said his group’s goal is to train those officers working in school-based positions to uphold positions as teachers and mentors while still preforming their law enforcement duties. These roles help officers to form lasting bonds with the community’s young people while promoting a safer and more secure school environment.
“I think for most people that get into this role, their desire is to better the future of our communities; and there is no greater asset, no greater resource, in our communities than the kids we have in our schools,” Schoeff said. “It’s a great way for us to get in and build the relationship between law enforcement and kids.”
The association’s training covers a wide range of topics: students’ rights, signs of drug use and addiction, recognizing child abuse and performing emergency procedures, to name a few.
One of the key lessons covers public speaking because resource officers are often asked to give law enforcement-related presentations to classes, Schoeff said. These classroom-based interactions allow the officer to mingle with teachers as well as students, helping them become a trusted member of the school staff.
Once those positive relationships are constructed, the students often have an easier time looking to all law enforcement officials as a role model, and those feelings carry on outside the school, Schoeff said.
“There are certain situations in society today that tend to encourage people to distrust law enforcement or have a negative feeling about law enforcement,” he said. “We all know the vast majority of law enforcement do great things. What we want to do is build a relationship with kids as early as possible so that they understand our true role.”
Although state law does require schools to have police on campus, resource officers are now employed at each of the county’s four school districts with the help of various grants. Many of these awards state that the officer employed with the school must be certified through the national association, Hancock County sheriff’s Lt. Donnie Munden said.
The time these officers devote to the schools are usually in addition to their regularly scheduled patrol hours, Munden said: the hours the work at the school is paid for by the school corporations rather than the officer’s department.
Having an officer stationed with each school district to handle situations there allows the departments’ remaining patrolmen to focus on all other emergency calls.
“The more often we have an officer there who can be that buffer, the less the patrol officers will be called from their regular duty shifts to go out and attend to situations at the school,” he said.
Munden is a graduate of Eastern Hancock High School, and he said he chose to join the rotation of officers working there because he sees it as a way to give back to the community where he grew up.
Eastern Hancock hired police officers in the spring, and their presence has already made a difference within the district, David Pfaff, the high school’s principal said. So far, they have lent fresh eyes to the district’s school safety plan and helped revise everything from traffic flows to lockdown protocols, and Pfaff said he’s eager to see what else will be accomplished during the coming school year.
“Anytime we can bring students and law enforcement together, it’s a good thing,” Pfaff said. “It lets the kids know these are good guys, not adversaries.”
Sheriff’s deputy Gary Stanley said his children will one day enroll in Southern Hancock Community Schools. Before that day comes, he wants to do what he can to make the district’s environment the best it can be. So, he’ll be spending a few days of his work week this year stationed at the school rather than on the road.
He attended this week’s training to learn more about what’s trending in school police work as compared to that he experiences out in the county. The similarities are there, he said, but the population is much different.
“It’s just a different flavor for what we’re already doing,” he said.