SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS
The Jacksonville Police Department services a very diverse and transient population comprised of over 32 thousand civilians and 43 thousand military personnel. Our community is proudly referred to as the "Home of Camp Lejeune" marine corps base. Camp Lejeune is touted as the largest amphibious military installation in the world. Our community is presented with unique problems which are inherent with its make-up. The public schools are directly affected by the impact of having an enrollment which is reflective of a "big city" school system. For the most part, the infrastructure to support this system has been gradually modified and upgraded over the years as our school population has increased dramatically. The exception to these modifications has been the inability to completely address the law enforcement needs of our school community until recently.
We have addressed the identifiable causative factors of disruptions and violence in our city schools and have learned in addition to real problems that existed that there was a perception of problems that equated to a problem in and of itself. Having identified our need has allowed us to assess our options. It became immediately apparent that placing officers on the school campuses would address our particular situation directly and indirectly. First, the incidents actually occurring during school hours could receive instant response without the delay incurred through having to dispatch officers to the school. Second, the visibility of the officers on campus would have a preventive effect by their mere presence and the fear of that immediate response and subsequent intervention. The last but not least important aspect addressed concerned the indirect effect that we have achieved concerning the "fear" of violence which permeates the school campuses. Interviews with students have revealed that many of them actually dreaded coming to school because of a perception that their campuses were unsafe. This perception was noted even on campuses that did not have reputations for violence. Incidents within other schools in our system and news coverage by the media have fostered an aura of concern that has been passed between students and parents. We determined that having officers on campus would have a positive effect on this perception and would indirectly achieve dissuading this perception.
We identified our problems, assessed our needs, and realized that the only course of action open to us at this time was to apply for a grant which would make available the resources necessary to address our dilemma. In the interim, we worked out an agreement with the Board of Education which would place off duty officers in key schools salaried independently by the Board. The " Cops" grant was initially applied for in March and was subsequently approved this summer. We gained a total of ten new officers through the grant. We contracted with the Onslow County Board of Education to seek reimbursement for five of the officers who would be placed in our local schools.
School started back in our community on May 5. Our National Night Out was held on May 4. Approximately 5000 persons attended this law enforcement sponsored community event. Its important that I note here that the majority of attendees were families. We were told over and over throughout the night that we were appreciated and how glad they were that we would have school resource officers in the schools this year. Since the first day of school, our permanently assigned resource officers have intervened in numerous incidents which have prevented violence. Two major occurrences involved persons who were not students coming onto the campuses with concealed weapons. (Loaded handgun). Another involved a wanted felon non-student who had outstanding warrants on file for his arrest. This department also started a bicycle patrol last summer which we have incorporated into our safe schools strategy. The officers are assigned to neighborhoods and service that particular neighborhood school by making contact with the students as they begin and end their school day. It has been encouraging to observe the interaction of these students with our bike patrol officers, especially students who travel on bicycles themselves. They tend to identify more closely with these officers because of the common bond that the bicycles create.
Additionally, our agency implemented the D.A.R.E. and Officer Friendly programs when these programs first came out in our state. We have watched our children graduate from these programs and continue on through college and become good citizens.
Our reports from the school resource officers indicate that they are bonding extremely well with the students and that the attitudes overall at the target schools are very good. We believe that time will eventually determine that our selected courses of action to address our communities needs is reaping great dividends. We intend to monitor our programs closely and make adjustments as needed to insure the success of our goals to make our school system the safest in the nation.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.