Primer Series: Law Enforcement Presence in Our Schools and Why It Is Important—Part I

If your support the community, they will support you.
—Jerry Greenfield

If you have ever wondered why Colchester Police Department vehicles are so often found at our schools, this two-part primer is definitely for you. (Hint: It is a good thing.)

Colchester Police Department’s (CPD’s) regular involvement with our school district has been in place since 1989; the program was based upon a concept developed in Los Angeles in 1983 as a result of that city’s increase in violence and drug use. The reasons for incorporating law enforcement professionals into the academic environment are multifold and interrelated, and all of them have the ultimate aim of helping to foster and facilitate safe and healthy citizens and communities.

Specially trained police officers—specifically, a DARE officer and a school resource officer (SRO)—are assigned to the district on a full-time, in-school basis. CPD’s officers’ entry into the five-year rotation is optional, and it involves engaging very interactively with the students and teaching age-appropriate curriculum. The positions are cross-trained, and there are a number of Colchester Police officers who are trained for them. While all law enforcement professionals in the state of Vermont are trained at the Vermont Police Academy, interested police officers—who are first screened for suitability for working with this very specific population—must also complete specialized DARE training and receive specific certification in order to serve as DARE and SRO officers, including a two-week, residential class that involves modeling, role playing, research, and presentations. Evaluators are present for every aspect of the training, and candidates are required to pass multiple skills assessments along the way. Graduates are certified for grades 1–6, and still further training is required for higher grade levels. The officers must also routinely receive updated training in order to maintain their certifications.

The officers are in all of our schools throughout the week serving in various capacities, and teaching specialized curriculum in organized classes is the priority. For example, some of the police department’s efforts are incorporated into the health curriculum in order to accommodate the schools’ state and federal requirements. Much of the curriculum is designed to address the issues identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which include but are not limited to tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

For example, part of the officers’ health-related curriculum includes such topics as drug use prevention, violence issues, decision making, and conversations about risks and consequences. The curriculum also includes conversations with students about where they can go for help for a variety of issues, methods and techniques for determining a person’s credibility, maintaining responsibility and accountability for one’s actions, and so on. Another frequently reinforced message is that it is far easier to stay out of trouble in the first place than it is to get out of trouble once one is already in it. The officers also occasionally step in and assist with law-related subjects, such as driver’s education and forensics. And CPD’s Corporal Hull, who is stationed at Colchester High School, works to manage the criminal aspects associated with the program—issues like truancy, vandalism, violence, threats, and the like. “And hopefully,” CPD’s Corporal Fontaine (the district’s DARE officer) said, “incidents that do occur in the schools will lend themselves to teachable moments from a humanistic, positive approach.”

We’ll continue this discussion in Part II of this primer, coming up very soon. Please stay tuned!

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