CEDAR RAPIDS — The recent detriment of school and police shootings have brought serious collisions between law enforcement and the general populace, but are school resource officers really as dangerous as the Iowa City school board has portrayed?
“We already know what police officers are going to do to black and brown kids,” Johnson County supervisor Royceann Porter said in a story in The Gazette.
“It feels offensive because most people think that cops just kill the black race, it’s like people think the black race is growing extinct or something, and at school I joke around with the cop and she’s cool with me,” said Russius Tucker, a sophomore at Prairie High School.
Not only are SROs in great standing with students, but the Cedar Rapids district actively relies on police officers to not only keep schools safe, but to guide students into adulthood.
“Less than 5 percent of my job is actual police work,” said Charity Hansel, an officer with the Cedar Rapids Police Department. “I spend most of my time teaching and counseling kids in an informal setting. We are simply another adult in the building to help support the students and build positive relationships.”
Hansel is one of the many school resource officers in Cedar Rapids schools. Prairie associate principal Matthew Jenkins appreciates all Hansel does.
“If we have concerns about whether it’s theft or we need guidance on students who we need to have tough conversations with, she’s very effective for students who need support,” he said. “Even though she wears a uniform, she’s really good at lending students an ear.”
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Jenkins has a unique perspective, as an African-American who has endured the good and the bad of police. He sees both sides of the spectrum.
“I’ve had experiences where cops weren’t great to people of color and I’ve had great experiences where they’ve gone out of their way to help people of color,” Jenkins said. “I think the problem is there but I don’t like to blanket all police officers like that.
“Knowing the law enforcement in our community, I know they’re taking strides.”
Many argue schools with SROs have increased rates of criminal charges. In the past year, Kennedy has had nearly 60 charges, according to public records.
“Well I know there’s a lot of research that shows when SROs are at a school, the greater rate of arrests there are at school but I think that reflects reality,” Kennedy principal Jason Kline said. “We don’t arrest students for skipping class, we arrest them for actual criminal offenses. We actually give them an option where they can reflect on their decisions and do community service instead of criminal charges. Kids have to understand the severity of criminal actions in their early years.”
SROs like Prairie’s Janae Obbink rarely charge students for things that can be viewed as criminal action. She said most of the time she hands students a Disorderly Conduct paper with a variety of questions for them to answer. That’s right, students write the police officer a reflective essay on their misbehaviors instead of getting in trouble with the law.
Here are the questions students must answer:
1. Describe how your actions constituted disorderly conduct.
2. What is your plan for any future conflicts that may arise between you and another student/peer?
3. How motivated are you to follow your plan?
4. What will the consequences be if you don’t follow your plan?
5. What are the rewards for doing the right thing and sticking to your plan?
6. What advice can you offer another person in the same situation that you found yourself in?
“My job as an SRO is totally different,” Obbink said. “I deal a lot with DHS and Foundation 2. I deal with a lot of students who are suicidal or depressed. A lot of my responsibility is more on the social aspect side than the police work.
“Other than my uniform, I’m not much of a police officer. I mainly deal with counseling and speaking to students.”
The truth is, SROs are vital to the growth and development of children and young adults. For years, students have received minimal consequences for serious criminal offenses. We not only use the SROs to show students the consequences of crimes, but to be another caring adult for students to look up to.
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“If you want to make a difference or change when it comes to police relationships, you have to make the change,” Jenkins said.