What’s In A Name?

A recent story in the Northfield News made reference to our School Resource Officer. A number of folks asked why some educators refer to this position as a “School Liaison Officer.”

It’s a matter of perspective and sometimes bias.

In the 1970’s and early 80’s police departments began to integrate police officers in and around schools in an attempt to prevent violence and bridge a gap that was ever-widening between kids and police. The lessons of the 1960’s were quite telling that cops and kids always didn’t seem to get along. Literally the term” school liaison officer” was intended to begin the building process. By the mid-1980’s though the thought of an officer being on a school campus didn’t conjure up fears of parents and hopefully must educators began to see the merit of having an officer available to kids as a resource….hence the change “school resource officer.”

The difference in terms may seem trivial to you but it means a heck of a lot to us in the policing profession. A resource officer is someone who can be a source of information and at times, reassurance. The presence of a resource officer means they may present in classrooms, be at lunch or afterschool activities. Their primary purpose is not really to be there for enforcement or serve as a hall monitor but rather be seen as a person of trust and someone who is accessible.
The Minnesota Legislature saw enough merit in the process to allow local school districts to assess a crime levy to help at that time, support the DARE Program. The legislation was later changed to allow school districts to use all or part of those funds for non-law enforcement related staff like parking lot security people. Our local district currently does pay for a portion of our school resource officer’s time.

Most folks around U.S. schools simply use the old term out of habit. A few probably would prefer to have it the old way. It’s often hard to give up some of that perceived power to an “outsider.” Cops learned the merit of this push of power to stakeholders some time ago. It’s part of the engagement of the community and our kids and young adults have as much right to assess police services anyone. The hope that officers are seen as a resource and an individual who can be trusted and respected means a lot.

Thirty years of this practice seems to bear out the successes. No longer do officers walk down the street and hear that old saying from parents: “If you don’t behave that officer will arrest you.”

Monte Nelson, who is currently an investigator with our department has told me on many occasions how kids still approach him, many of them now adults, and ask him how he is doing and want to fill him in on their lives. Monte spent a number of years as a school resource officer here in Northfield as did Sergeant Mark Murphy, Officers Jeff Gigstad, Josh Laber and Jody Spinner.

Our current officer in the schools is Thad Monroe. Thad brings his own personality and talents to the position as does each officer who is willing to make her or his “beat” the schools. There are success stories and there are sad stories. We would like to think our School Resource Officers make a difference. In a district like Northfield, we could actually use two of them. Hopefully someday that will be possible. We’d like to get the opportunity to spend time with more of the elementary students, possibly with DARE or other programs. Our trained officers are standing by ready and willing.

We are fortunate to have local administrators in our district and dedicated educators who are willing to invite us into their buildings. It is a privilege to be part of the effort to make our kids successful while we strive to keep them safe.

About Gary Smith

Chief Smith has served over 31 years in the criminal justice field. He is currently a consultant assisting public and private organizations better establish community goals and ethical conduct with the members of their organizations. Chief Smith serves as a facilitator, lecturer, professor and other capacities both inside and outside the criminal justice field.
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