Resource officers vital in helping students succeed, Grand Forks educators say
Grand Forks Police Cpl. Beth Skari's sense of humor and friendly personality make her more than a person with a badge, Red River High School junior Myra Henderson said.
Instead of giving off a "scary" stereotype that some police officers do, Skari, the school resource officer for Red River, is someone students can come to with any issue, even if it isn't school- or crime-related, she said.
"She's human, just like we are," Henderson said. "She's a real person."
Skari is one of five resource officers who interact with students in the Grand Forks Public School District, but the police presence is about to grow.
The School Board approved at its Monday meeting the hiring of two more officers who will go to the middle schools to assist Cpl. Kris Brown. Brown currently serves all three middle schools in the district, but the administration feels three are needed to cover the workload and properly interact with students, Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said.
"One officer trying to cover the north end and south end of town, it is just difficult," Thompson said. "Geographically, that is a great distance."
School resource officers do more than just respond to incidents and patrol the halls. They are in classrooms educating students on relevant issues, such as bullying in schools, the increased use of drugs in the region and how to be prepared for school shootings.
That last issue has been a hot topic for school officials and students, especially after a gunman killed 17 people in February at a school in Parkland, Fla. More recently, a school resource officer engaged and shot at an armed student, who fatally wounded one student, last month in Lexington Park, Md. The shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but officials have credited the school resource officer's quick action as the reason why so many lives at the school were spared, according to media reports.
The Herald spoke with several Red River students, who said they feel safe knowing someone is in the school whom they can trust to protect them. Henderson said she was glad someone like Skari was there to prepare students in case an incident like a school shooting occurs.
"Especially with everything that is going on around the world with school shootings, it's nice to know that we have additional security," she said. "They want us to get a good education while being safe."
Tool for success
The district has three school resource officers—one each for the two high schools and one who covers the three middle schools—as well as two officers who serve the elementary schools.
Cpl. Jason Kaiser serves Central High School. Cpls. Jessica Thorlacius and Jon Lampi interact with elementary students.
The district first hired school resource officers about 20 years ago and placed them in the high schools, Thompson said. The middle schools eventually added an officer.
"Clearly, having an officer in our school setting provides a more safe and secure environment," he said. "That's the No. 1 issue."
It also gives students a chance to interact with police in a positive setting and informal manner, Thompson said.
"We get a chance to sit and talk to them," Grand Forks Police Lt. Jeremy Moe said, adding officers are a resource for students.
Red River senior Neima Mohamud said the officer has a friendly personality and is approachable.
"She's definitely someone you can go and talk to no matter what the issue is," Red River senior Isaac Terry said.
Being personable and approachable is intentional, Moe and Skari said. Building trust with students reinforces safety among students and police officers, and students are more likely to come forward with information that can help officers investigate matters if positive relationships are formed, Skari said.
"Our goal isn't to be punitive," she said. "It's to be restorative and give our youth and these families the tools they need to be successful. That all comes with trust and building relationships."
One of the hardest parts is knowing something may be happening with a student but realizing students have to struggle through some issues, Skari said. Officers are there to help students move forward and deal with issues.
"You sometimes have to watch kids fall and watch them fail," she said. "But then you have to be there to pick them up."
Grand Forks students and officers respect each other, Skari said, adding students understand when business needs to be taken care of. If an incident happens, school staff and officers work as a team to address it, Thompson said. It's also helpful to have law enforcement expertise in the schools, he added.
It's important to have a culture of safety and security in schools, Moe said. The school and police also want to educate parents on school safety.
Skari said the children absorb information and are prepared to handle dangerous situations if they happen.
"They want to feel safe. They want to feel prepared," she said of school shootings that have happened across the country. "They are not afraid to talk about it. ... Kids are ready to be safe and educate themselves, and we are the tools that can help provide that education.