School resource officer program recognized for building trust

School resource officer program recognized for building trust

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) spotlighted Charles County’s School Resource Officers (SRO) last month, providing attention to a program DOJ officials called a model for the nation. DOJ officials visited Charles County Public Schools on April 25 to research how Charles County’s successful School Resource Officer program works, and officers shared policies and methods and classroom visits to provide a broad overview.

Visitors first arrived at John Hanson Middle School where the health class teacher of the day was Cpl. Bill Welch, a SRO who is certified in and teaches Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). Welch is as comfortable as a teacher as he is patrolling the hallways of Hanson, a place he calls his beat. Students are also comfortable with Welch and engage in easy conversation with their SRO who knows them by name and is teaching how the media influences the use of drugs like cigarettes and alcohol.

“You are building a culture of trust because of your SROs,” said Karol Mason, an assistant U.S. attorney general, following a presentation that included a video about the SRO program and testimony from parents and students. Student Chris Johnson talked about PFC P.J. Mann, the SRO at Matthew Henson Middle School, who made a difference in his life by mentoring and including him in a group called the “Distinguished Dozen.” Now a junior at North Point High School, Johnson said Mann helped him through tough times and taught him, “It’s okay to do the right thing.”

Thomas Stone High School was the next stop, and DOJ officials joined Cpl. Jared Cooney as he taught a Truth and Consequences class about the effects of marijuana. Using Telepresence, officials joined PFC Sheilagh Cook at T.C. Martin Elementary School as she worked with a fifth-grade DARE class. SRO Supervisor Sgt. Carl Rye and other officers explained the multitude of programs they offer students including sports and summer programs, Crime Solvers, gang awareness, bullying and training.

“You are role models for what success looks like and a model of how this should work nationwide,” Mason said. The visit was arranged as a result of a joint letter and invitation to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder from Sheriff Rex Coffey and former Superintendent James Richmond. Coffey and Richmond invited Holder to visit Charles County Public Schools following the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013. President Obama has directed the DOJ to study how School Resource Officers are best utilized in schools. “Our program is massively successful. We believe in a balanced approach that increases security at the schools while also fostering positive police-student relationships and providing outreach programs that encourage good decision making,” Coffey wrote in the letter.

“It’s wonderful to see this in practice. We want to know how we can service you. When Sheriff Coffey wrote to the Attorney General about what you are doing here he didn’t oversell it, he undersold it,” Mason said.

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX Coordinator and Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela Murphy, Section 504 Coordinator (employees/adults), at Charles County Public Schools, central office building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, Maryland 20646. 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

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