New resource officer begins at JHS
by Paige Rentz
Each of Jacksonville’s two public schools now will have its own police officer walking the halls full-time.

Police Officer Chris Jordan took up a new post Monday as a school resource officer, joining longtime resource officer Cpl. Duff Manners, who will now concentrate his work at Kitty Stone Elementary School. The district previously had two resource officers before financial constraints reduced manpower in the police department several years ago, leaving Manners to split his time between the district’s two schools.

“It’s a good thing for the students to see the school resource officer on their campus because they get used to being around police officers and realize they are the good guys,” said Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell.

Campbell said the district has been asking for a second officer for many years as part of its budget request. And after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, he renewed his request to the city.

Police Chief Tommy Thompson was able to make some shifts within his department to accommodate the request.

“We’re glad to do it. Just like everything else, it’s a matter of finances,” he said. “For the next semester, we’ll be one employee short out working the roads, but we’ll better serve the citizens doing this.”

Thompson said savings from unfilled positions would cover the cost of overtime necessary to cover the added patrol shift through the end of the school year.

Campbell said he sees employing school resource officers on both campuses as proactive rather than reactionary.

“Having that presence there is just an added layer of security for the staff and the students at any given time,” he said, adding that it also provides a more continuous opportunity for communication between students and law enforcement.

Monday was Jordan’s first day as a school resource officer, but he is a six-year veteran of the city’s police force, with several years of prior experience in other departments.

He has extensive training in the “active shooter” scenarios worrying many in the wake of Sandy Hook, receiving certifications to teach subject matter as well.

“The first thing is to make the schools more protected, more safe for the staff and the children,” he said. But he also hopes to build a relationship with the school staff and students and increase their comfort levels with law enforcement.

Manners, who began as the school resource officer for the high school in 1998, said one of the best ways to build rapport with students and faculty is to get into classrooms as a guest speaker on topics pertinent to students’ lives.

Now that he will be working solely with the elementary school, he said, he hopes to be able to present programs on such topics as bullying and home safety.

But most importantly, Manners hopes his presence will make the school safer. Whether it’s a school, community, or individual, “no entity is going to develop unless they feel safe,” he said, referencing psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories on the hierarchy of human needs.

“There’s folks out there that’s going to be violent, and we’re just going to have to be ready,” he said. “A school resource officer can make a difference. I haven’t met one that wouldn’t put it on the line and do whatever they have to to keep it safe.”

In the weeks following the shooting at Sandy Hook, school safety has been a topic of public discussion nationwide, something that has led many institutions to consider adding resource officers and seek advice on school safety, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, based in Hoover.

“Activity has been through the roof,” he said, “and it’s too bad it takes something like this, it really is.”

The organization has seen an uptick in requests for training, with about double the number of events scheduled this year over last year.

Canady said he’s been taking calls from school districts, police and sheriff’s departments, even the National Rifle Association, asking for recommendations on keeping schools safe.

“The number one goal of school-based policing is to bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement” he said. “When you do that, it creates not only a safe campus, but also a safe community.”

When officers are able to bridge that gap, it can create a positive relationship where students feel comfortable sharing information, Canady said. “Not as a snitch,” he added, “but important information that can head off an act of violence, information that can save someone’s life.”
© 2013