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

Last Friday, we introduced Part I of this primer about Colchester Police Department’s extensive efforts and involvement with our schools. We are pleased to continue that discussion today in “Law Enforcement Presence in Our Schools and Why It Is Important—Part II.”

As a quick recap, Part I discussed a bit about how the program began, the specialized training that the officers must complete to prepare for and maintain their roles in our schools, and an introduction to some of the curriculum that the officers teach as part of the program.

Aside from organized curriculum, the officers participate in a vast array of ongoing in-school and community outreach efforts like reading aloud to students, participating in Red Ribbon Week, helping out with Malletts Bay School’s February Reading Week, attending PTO meetings when appropriate, liaising with a number of mentoring programs (including the Town of Colchester’s ACE Before- and After-School Program), attending student games and other extracurricular functions, and assisting with bus dismissal. (And officers who are not directly assigned to work in our schools on a regular basis still periodically spend time with our students; officers help with Porters Point School’s Project Inside Out every year, and students have had the opportunity to meet Officer Dewey and his police dog, Tazor, at special presentations. As mentioned in Part I, officers also sometimes assist with instruction about forensics, as well.)

The program is designed to serve as a piece of the first line of issue prevention rather than as a punitive system. Corporal Fontaine stresses that the program is really important because it also serves to strengthen relationships with students and allows the students and the community members to see law enforcement professionals in a different—and friendlier—light. “When you live in your community, the kids don’t just see you in uniform; they see you everywhere,” he said. “In some communities, students only see on-duty police officers when something is wrong. Our youth are less likely to see the police in adverse conditions, and it has enriched their relationships with the police.” He added, “The community is worth investing this time and energy.” Indeed, a number of other schools acknowledge this concept as a community initiative. Burlington School District maintains a police presence, as do schools in Winooski, South Burlington, and Essex to name a few. Fontaine said that schools with police presence typically have a lower incidence of behavior-related problems. In fact, a number of studies have pointed to police presence on school campuses as contributing to the following:

* a significant decline in negative behaviors, including violence, vandalism, bullying, underage drinking and drug use, and threatening behavior
* traffic calming near campuses
* a reduction in unauthorized persons on campus and a powerful deterrent for trespassing
* reduced truancy
* improved relations between students and law enforcement
* increased perception of safety for students, faculty, and staff
* a reduction in opportunities for crime
* immediate availability of law enforcement professionals in the event of an emergency

The police officers in our schools also collaborate closely with teachers and administration in a number of very important ways, as well, as they work to protect lives and property. They actively participate in the schools’ crisis management teams and work closely with administration to develop and expand crime-prevention efforts. They assist with the evacuation and lock-down drills, help to develop and coordinate incident response plans, and provide feedback and strategize methods for improved school safety. The officers also work closely with the district around other difficult issues like child safety protocols and restraining orders, and they partner with the state attorney’s office to ensure our schools’ compliance with state regulations.

But Corporal Fontaine stresses that the positive impacts of police presence in our schools need to be a collaborative effort—meaning that the students must also receive the messages’ reinforcement at home. “The more involved you get in your communities, and the more buy-in you have, the more sense of responsibility the kids will develop. The schools encourage resiliency of these kids, and these kids need it backed up at home. So keep the communication open, and keep that strong base open; it’s all-inclusive and can’t only come from one place. Stay involved with your kids, your schools, and your after-school programs as much as possible.”

To close, we offer these words from former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Donna Shalala:

We know the parental support, community support, makes a difference. It’s not just the metrics of testing and putting pressure on the schools and on the teachers.

If you would like to learn more about Colchester Police Department’s involvement with our schools, please call (802) 264-5556.

Thank you for joining us.

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