Brentwood's school resource officer a multitask facilitator
They're there to work with the students and teachers, help them with their problems, teach them the dangers of bad behavior and keep the schools safe.
The role of a school resource officer goes beyond the badge.
Eight police officers and school administrators from across the state who attended a National Association of School Resource Officers, or NASRO, basic-training class in Brentwood earlier this month learned what it takes to spend their days in the schools and work alongside students to help keep them safe.
“It's helping me to realize that we're not here just to punish a kid,” said Bill Reed, 24, a 2007 Brentwood High School graduate, who now works as a part-time school resource officer in the Brentwood Borough School District.
“In the (police) academy, it's about, they do something wrong, you write them up. ... Here, it's not just about writing citations.”
Joseph Kozarian, the district's director of security and facilities — and also the Region 3 director for NASRO and trainer for school resource officer classes in the region — held the basic-training class at his home school earlier this month in an attempt to get the three newly hired part-time Brentwood officers trained in the school resource officer program, he said.
The Brentwood district, where Kozarian works as a full-time resource officer, switched its second full-time officer position into three part-time jobs.
After the class was set up, though, the state announced $3.9 million in funding for school resource and police officers to 81 schools and municipalities in late January. That led to increased requests for classes, Kozarian said, and many will be scheduled during the next several months, including a basic and advanced class, both of which will be held at Brentwood in June and July.
In Pennsylvania and nationwide, demand for NASRO's officer training programs has increased 300 percent since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, said Kozarian, who oversees operations in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. There are more than 3,000 NASRO members worldwide.
The job of a school resource officer is threefold: working as a law enforcement official, a mentor and a teacher, Kozarian said.
“We have to protect the most important assets in the world, and that's our kids,” he said.
All four of Brentwood's school resource officers are full-fledged police officers and carry pistols.
Officers in the training program learned about the importance of having a plan in place, practicing it, reviewing lockdown procedures and updating their routines. After all, police, too, learn from each school incident and find ways to respond better, said Kozarian, who started the school police program in Brentwood in 2002 and went to training to become a school resource officer in 2004.
“For years we've been teaching teachers to lock your doors and hide in the corner. They need to do more now,” Kozarian told the class.
In most of the national tragedies, in which children or teachers were killed by a gunman entering their building, a school resource officer was not in place at the building at the time, Kozarian said.
Plots to shoot people at schools are planned more frequently than national media reports indicate, Kozarian said. He told a story about an Arizona school resource officer receiving a tip and stopping a school shooting that had been planned.
“You don't hear about it because it's stopped,” he said.
Having the right person in place, with the right personality and fit for the job, makes all the difference, Kozarian said.
“I want to try and tell them, ‘Not all police officers come and bring the bad news,'” said Jeremy Bogdanski, 23, of Baldwin Borough, who works as a part-time officer in the Brentwood Borough School District.
“I want to change a lot of people's minds about police work. Kids, when I was growing up, didn't like policemen. I want to change that.”
Josh Dietz, 37, of Baldwin Borough, works with the Forward Township police department and will become a full-time school resource officer in the Elizabeth Forward School District, thanks to a state grant.
“It just gives you the tools,” Dietz said of the training.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.