In schools, cops still walk a beat
There was a time when cops walked the streets of Farmington. The town was small, the one or two constables knew everyone, and everyone knew them.
Those days seem long gone. But are they really?
Not quite, says Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist. These days, a few cops still walk the beat, but the streets have been replaced by hallways. Those cops are school liaison officers Steve Kuyper and Jason Fox. The neighborhoods they patrol are Farmington High School and the two middle schools.
"Back when cops used to walk a beat, a cop was given a neighborhood. They knew everybody who lived in that area. There was a great familiarity with the residents," Lindquist said. "The same thing kind of happens in the schools. That is their job. They spend a lot of time in that neighborhood and learning about the people in that area."
SROs have been in the Farmington schools for more than a decade. Officer Ted Dau spent the better part of the past decade as the liaison officer at Farmington High School, and, up until five years ago, both of the middle schools. But five years ago, officer Steve Kuyper was named as a second SRO to cover the two middle schools so Dau could work more extensively at the high school.
This year, Dau has stepped back from the SRO position and is working at the police department. Kuyper moved up to the high school, and, at the beginning of the year, Fox became the middle school police liaison officer.
Still, even with two SROs in the buildings, it's hard to reach all the kids and instances that need attention. That's about to change though. New patrol officer Peter Zajac was hired to fill the patrol position held by officer Andrew Van Dorn. Van Dorn will become the third SRO in Farmington.
The school resource officer program is beneficial on many levels, Lindquist said. For one thing, it gives students the opportunity to get to know and work with a police officer outside of what people might consider "normal contact," like seeing officers pull someone over or write a ticket.
"You put them into a school setting, and it's much more of an informal, one-on-one relationship," Lindquist said. "Kids have a better impression of what a police officer is."
If, for instance, a teenager is being investigated for activity outside the school building, the police officers know they can speak with the SROs and perhaps get information that will help in the investigation. It's also helpful for the schools to have an officer on duty. If a situation arises within a building, school administrators know they do not have to wait for an officer to respond.
The officers in the school buildings are still, at the end of the day, police officers. Their training was in law enforcement, they think and act like cops.
But there are little nuances that go along with being a school resource officer - knowing how to talk to students and develop trusting relationships takes some time. Working with school administrators means not only identifying areas of concentration for the SROs, but sitting down and deciding how to handle each situation on an individual basis. What works with a middle school student might not work with a high school senior.
"It's a lot different than working the street. Working the street, you go to a call, you handle it, and you're done," Fox said. "In the school, you have to figure out how to make that child a productive member of the school. You'll be dealing with them day in and day out."
Fox said there are still quite a few things that surprise him. He has been spending every other day at each of the middle school buildings. It works fine, most of the time, but Van Dorn will be a welcome addition to the SRO program.
Since starting his new job at the beginning of the school year, Fox has been amazed at how early some kids seem to become involved in things that are bad for them. The majority of his days, Fox deals with kids who are fighting. A fair share of drug, alcohol and tobacco use issues have come to light, too. He is surprised, though, by some of the issues that arise from cell phone and Internet use.
"There's a lot of Internet and cell phone stuff. I strongly encourage parents to look through their kids' cell phones," Fox said. "There could be a whole article on that 'sexting' thing. I mean, there's a lot."
Some of the SRO's job includes classroom instruction. It's not uncommon for the police officers to go into classrooms and talk about different aspects of the job, Kuyper said. When Van Dorn comes on, it will give the SROs a chance to expand that part of the job into the elementary schools, as well.
"We're hoping that once we get that third one in, we can maybe get into the elementary schools a little more, maybe even interact with the kids at a younger age," Kupyer said.
At the high school, Kuyper works with about 1,800 kids in grades 9-12, most of whom he had already worked with in the middle schools. The transition from the middle school to the high school has been pretty easy. The only difference is how he has to handle the students.
"The biggest change is the maturity level. Before it was grades 6-9, now it's 9-12. We get a broad range, and you have to look at whether they act like little kids or whether I treat them as an adult," Kuyper said.
School District 192 pays the salaries of the school resource officers for nine months of the school year. The other three months - during summer vacation - the officers are worked back in to the patrol schedule, where they often fill in for other officers who take vacations. During the summer months, the city of Farmington pays their salaries.