SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER PROGRAM
The City of Huntington has developed a successful School Resource Officer Program in answer to the escalating threat of school violence in the United States. Our program was implemented at our recently consolidated Huntington High School during the 1996-97 academic year. The program is in its third year on campus and has become increasingly effective and efficient through evaluation and improvement each year. While similar programs exist in other locations of the United States, our program is more community resource-oriented than those in community with a main purpose of campus security.
The state of West Virginia is blessed with the lowest crime rate in the country and the implementation of the program was targeted to maintain the safe school environment that our citizens have come to enjoy. With the increase in school violence and the student population of Huntington High School growing beyond any other school in West Virginia, the need for a uniformed officer on campus was evident.
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The City of Huntington’s School Resource Officer Program places a full-time, uniformed police officer in Huntington High School each day of the academic year. Huntington High School houses students in grades nine through twelve and is the only public High School in the City of Huntington. The officer’s duty assignment begins one hour prior to the first class each day and concludes approximately one hour after the students are released or when the last student boards the final school bus of the day. An operational office is maintained within the main building with telephone, voice mail and radio capabilities. The school utilizes a radio system for communication within the administrative staff and the Resource Officer is included in the network. The office is accessible to students who may stop by during breaks, by appointment, or by referral. The Resource Officer has an open-door policy with faculty and staff and attends all Faculty Senate meetings and Administrative Planning meetings. The Cabell County Board of Education has granted administrative authority, as well as the normal law enforcement authority relevant to the position of police officer. The increase the safe campus perception, the Resource Officer is assigned a marked patrol vehicle, and a high visibility parking spot on campus. Deterrence of criminal activity on the closed campus is largely through visibility of the Resource Officer and unlimited access of the entire campus.
The School Resource Officer’s role requires both interpersonal skills necessary to conduct the public relations aspect of the assignment and the investigation skills to respond to various calls for service and complete an investigation through prosecution when necessary. Most investigatory time is devoted to those hours that the student population is in class. Lunch, before and after school, and class change breaks require physical presence in the school halls and parking lots. Occasionally, the School Resource Officer is utilized in administrative meetings, sexual harassment hearings, and expulsion hearings. Due to the nature of the young age of the majority of the population, a close working relationship must be developed between the Juvenile Prosecutors Office and the School Resource Officer. Through the daily interaction with the student population, the Resource Officer position has been a wealth of information and intelligence on current Departmental investigations and has assisted in the intervention or prevention of potential problems in the city and on campus.
Periodically, the Unit Supervisor, the School Resource Officer, and the School Administration meet to evaluate the effectiveness of the position, the overall security of the school, and to recommend change as needed. Over the past summer, the current Resource Officer developed an Emergency Response Plan in the event a major crisis occurs on campus. A color-coded response system has been established to notify all school personnel of a particularly dangerous situation and to notify the Department on how to respond without attracting citizen or media attention at a stage when vehicular traffic may greatly inhibit police response. The school faculty and staff were trained by the School Resource Officer before the academic year began to facilitate proper actions by all involved in order to maintain the overall security of the campus.
2. When was the program created and why?
The Huntington Police Department School Resource Officer Program was created and implemented in the fall of the 1996-97 school year. The necessity for police presence on campus stemmed from the consolidation of two high schools, Huntington High School and Huntington East High School within the city limits of Huntington, and the anxieties expressed in public meetings prior to the school’s opening. The resulting educational facility was named Huntington High School and became the largest school in the State of West Virginia. The former Huntington High School and Huntington East High School were located on opposite ends of the city and consisted proportionally different demographic student populations with a rich history in cross-town competitive rivalries. Traditions from each school were blended into the creation of the new campus to create a neutral environment but did not lower the apprehension of many parents and citizens. In response to these concerns, the Cabell County Board of Education and the Huntington Police Department agreed to place an officer on campus during normal operating hours.
3. How do you measure your program’s success?
Each officer assigned to the School Resource position compiles statistics on incident reports, arrests, types of crimes, faculty-related incidents, student expulsions and community relations presentations. Statistics demonstrated a definite improvement in the second year of the program over the inaugural year of the new consolidation. On campus juvenile arrests were reduced by 76% and adult arrests by 60%. Incident Reports were down by 32% and incidents involving faculty and administration fell by 38%. Total reports of assault or battery were reduced by 41%. Efforts to maintain a tobacco and illegal drug-free campus yielded 136 citations during the 1996-97 school year and fell 87% in the 1997-98 academic year. Overall, criminal acts and incidents involving the intervention of the School Resource Officer have decreased drastically through his presence on campus and the perception that prosecution will be sought when situations warrant. A second mark of success that has been seen, but not measured, is the positive rapport, which exists between the School Resource Officer and the student population. An average of 24 classroom presentations are given annually by the assigned officer on a wide range of topics from law enforcement career information to the importance of education in society today. Discussions are held on criminal and traffic law when requested. The office has also witnessed numerous student initiated personal contacts when problems become too big for the students to handle by themselves.
The School Resource Officer and an off-campus service organization were largely responsible for quelling a wave of racial tension between a small group f students espousing tenets of white supremacy and some of the African-American population. Identification and recognition of the group leaders played in integral role in the suppression of violence. Several meetings were set and agreements were negotiated with regard to offensive language and apparel. The Resource Officer assisted in the arbitration efforts, which resulted in calm being restored to the campus.
4. How is the program financed?
The Huntington Police Officer’s salary, while on campus, is reimbursed to the City of Huntington by the Cabell County Board of Education as agreed upon by contract. All overtime related to school activities, such as community meetings and expulsion hearings are also reimbursed. One hour daily is compensated at the overtime rate to combat substance abuse and underage tobacco use before school begins.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?
The nature of Huntington’s School Resource Officer Program attracts parents, as well as students and faculty. Parents having difficulty with students due to incorrigibility, substance abuse, or criminal involvement may contact the Resource Officer for assistance. Several off-campus service organizations and volunteer groups work with the Unit for the good of the student population. The citizenry of Huntington have utilized this resource and have indicated their pleasure with its objectives. Recently, other counties and communities considering consolidation have requested assistance with their programs and the Huntington program was discussed at Public Hearings on School Violence sponsored by United States Congressman Bob Wise in various locations around the state.
6. Contact person:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.