ST. GEORGE, UTAH - Teachers, students and parents are getting ready to go back to school--but so are police officers.
The Washington County School District has school resource officers in all of its intermediate, middle and high schools.
It’s a partnership they’ve had with St. George Police for the past 20 years. Police administrators said the day-to-day tasks may have evolved, but the goal is the same: to serve and protect the students.
“Not always are they police issues,” said St. George Police Sergeant Sam Despain. “They’re there to lend advice and support to the administration where needed. And if it does arise to a criminal matter, be able to take appropriate criminal action.”
Not just any officer can work in the schools. Despain said officers are hand-selected based on certain criteria.
“Because of their unique abilities to be good police officers, and their ability to work with students,” Despain said.
At Snow Canyon High School, that assignment went to Officer Travis Brown. He’s worked as a school resource officer for eight years there. He said those responsibilities have more to do with teaching than patrolling.
“Kids are very impressionable,” Brown said. “We have an opportunity at an early age to impress them about some of the things that we do as far as laws, limitations, and those type of things, and consequences.”
Brown said the goal of a resource officer should be to know their students' individual needs, so they can respond appropriately if trouble arises. School administrators said that intimate knowledge of the students makes them more like faculty.
“We’ve got our school resource officer meeting with kids,” said Desert Hills High School Vice Principal Justin Keate. “[He’s] concerned about their grades, helping them get graduated, helping to get them to the next level.”
Parents we spoke with said, while it is scary to think police presence is needed in schools and the possibility of abuse of power is there, they’re glad to have an officer on campus.
“You don’t know what’s coming into the schools, and you don’t know who may come into the school,” said parent Cherie Starke. “So it’s nice that the students and the teachers and the administration can feel safe.”
School resource officers take on regular shifts during the summer, doing patrols and investigations. Brown said while he’s grateful for those opportunities, he’s looking forward to getting back to school.