By Steev Riccardo
Webster - When you first hear that there is a police officer stationed at Bartlett High School, the immediate response usually is, “Oh, they must have a lot of trouble over there.” In actuality, having a police officer at the high school prevents trouble and gives kids a whole new way of looking at police and the benefits of having them around.
After the shooting at Columbine in April 1999, many schools decided that it would be better to have more security around, and Bartlett High School was one of those.
The Town of Webster received a three-year grant from the state’s Department of Criminal Justice in 2001 to help kick off the program, and it has been immensely successful ever since.
Officer Brian Barnes, who has since moved to Seattle, Washington, where he still serves, was the first police officer assigned to the school system and seeing that the idea was a good one, Chief of Police Timothy Bent became a big proponent of the program.
“When the job opened up six years ago Chief Bent interviewed several officers and eventually I was given the job,” said Officer Cindy Johnson, who grew up in Webster and has been with the department for ten years, and now serves as the school’s resource officer.
“Chief Bent believes wholeheartedly in the program because it has bridged a gap between the kids and law enforcement and it allows them to see police in a different light and they now know that they can trust the police.”
Although there are similarities between wearing a police uniform in a high school and on the streets, it is still a much different type of assignment for Johnson
“It’s a multi-faceted position. We do hall checks; we have a fantastic video surveillance system that I monitor. I deal with different incidents that come up, like bullying if it gets to police level, any kind of assault and battery, fights, and threats of fights. It’s different every day.”
The officer also deals with truancy issues that sometimes involve going to a student’s house and picking kids up and bringing them to the school.
She also works with CHINS (Child in Need of Services), which is for students who are habitual offenders. “When we have a CHINS, it goes to the courts and a probation officer becomes involved, so we have to have good communications with the courts as well,” she said.
Johnson is also a sexual assault investigator “Because I am in the school, the kids feel comfortable because I am a female and they see me every day. I get quite a few disclosures and work closely with guidance. We work well together.”
There was a time when a child would be neglected or abused at home and had no place to turn. Johnson offers kids an outlet that they can go to for help.
“If I hear about abuse taking place at home I immediately call DCF (Department of Children and Families) and have them come over. There have been situations where students are afraid to go home and once they report it they become even more afraid to go home because they know there are going to be consequences.”
DCF initially makes sure that the child is going to be safe by being moved to a relative’s home or emergency foster placement. Then there will be charges. Officer Johnson has charged parents in the past for assault and battery and neglect. This is something that is addressed immediately.
“Because we have a good rapport with the school guidance counselors, when they hear about it, they usually bring me into it, and on the other hand, if a student comes to me all upset, I will bring the guidance counselor in with the child’s permission. We try to keep everything as confidential as possible.”
While interviewing Johnson, a situation came up where a parent called the school looking for her child who hadn’t come home the night before, and it turned out that the child was in school.
Having Officer Johnson at the school every day has helped nearly eliminate what used to be a big problem: drugs on campus.
“The kids know that school property is subject to search and that includes the school parking lot. Kids have told me that no one is stupid enough to bring drugs on campus. There may be some, but it is not rampant,” she said.
Once a year the K-9’s are brought into the school and they do searches of the building. “Only one time in the last few years have they found any drugs in the building and it was a small bag of marijuana, so that is a positive.”
Of course, it is impossible to stop kids from using drugs outside of school. “We have kids come to school stoned. Just yesterday we had somebody, and he was suspended for ten days because of it. I know kids who go to school here are using drugs, but that is after school or on the weekends. Prescription meds are also an issue.”
“The kids who I know to have had drug interactions outside the school, I have had discussions with them one on one to let them know not to dare bring them into the school, so we have established that,” she said.
Teacher Ryan Renauld, who also serves as Assistant Principal at times, thinks the program is working. “I think it helps us in those certain special situations where legal matters need to be addressed. Having that influence here is great.” said Renault.
“I work quite closely with Officer Johnson. She is a very positive influence in the building for the kids and the staff,” he said.
This is a great program and gives kids a whole new way to see the police and work with them. And Officer Cindy Johnson has proved to be the perfect woman for the job.
- Wednesday, 29 February 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News