Back to school
School starts today for children in Hall County and Gainesville public schools. Buses are expected to be on the roads beginning at 6:30 a.m.
With the new school year set to begin today, teachers and students are not the only people preparing.
School resource officers work in each middle and high school in Hall County.
“They’re actually a big asset to the community,” said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department. “They deal with anything that may arise in the schools, and they also do a lot of education. It’s not just being reactive but a little more proactive. It kind of falls under the community policing approach.”
Charles Newman has served as a school resource officer since 1994 and currently works at Gainesville High School.
“We are liaison officers,” he said. “Really we are a go-between between the police department and the school system. That’s our No. l function.”
Some of the officers’ daily duties include working on cases with Juvenile Court and the Department of Family and Children’s Services.
“Counselors report if you have child abuse cases, neglect cases; we’re the first ones they report to,” said Chris Coy, resource officer at Wood’s Mill Academy.
When not handling legal issues or conflicts in the schools, the resource officers often act as counselors. Holbrook said many students find the resource officers to be a great source to seek advice and talk about any issues they may be facing.
“We basically walk the halls, talk to people. People come to your office to talk to you about whatever. So really it’s just to be there as a counselor and an information source,” Newman said.
Not only do the officers act as counselors, but many times teachers request them to assist in teaching lessons to the students. Some of the topics include the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, searches and seizures, or something as simple as life skills, Newman said.
“Basically whatever that teacher teaches, sometimes they want you to build on areas that they’re focusing on,” he said.
In past years, the resource officers have taught the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, but with increased school populations and lack of funding they have not been able to continue the program. The program is designed to be a 13-week program, but with only three resource officers and a large amount of students, the officers do not have the time to dedicate to the program, Coy said.
Officers in Hall County system also help with driving programs and patrolling traffic.
“They taught the teen driver program this summer and then they held a class with the National Association of School Resource Officers ... so they’re getting back into the schools and getting back into the swing of things,” said Col. Jeff Strickland, chief deputy for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
The resource officers ensure that traffic runs smoothly in the mornings before the school day begins and in the afternoons when school lets out. They also spend the day at the school to handle incidents that occur on school campuses.
“They patrol the campus in the morning, in their car and on foot and handle any kind of issues that arise,” Strickland said. “They handle any type issue that would arise in the school from petty theft to an assault. The school resource officer handles that along with our Criminal Investigations Division.”
Coy said students often have a negative image of law enforcement and having resource officers in the schools helps students realize they are there to help them.
“A lot of our kids, the only contact they have with law enforcement is at a negative level and by us being in the schools and working close with them, we build a rapport with them and they see that we’re just not there to lock somebody up or take somebody to jail or to write a ticket,” Coy said.
Holbrook said the officers are not only valuable to the students but also to the department because they can often assist in criminal investigations.
“If we’re working on any type of case that involves a juvenile or student, we can call these guys and they’ll more than likely know anything there is to know about that child,” he said.
Although many students look up to the resource officers, they still realize the officers are members of law enforcement and have a job to do, Coy said.
“They know who I am, they know what I do, they know where the line is drawn. I will be their friend until I have to step up and do my job.”