2018-04-13 / Front Page

School resource officers wear many hats

BY DARCIE MOORE
Times Record Staff


TOPSHAM POLICE OFFICER RANDY COOK has been the school resource officer going on five years now at Mt. Ararat High School. It’s a job that allows him to do a different kind of policing, to teach and to build relationships with students, giving them a safe place to talk about what may be troubling them or a friendly face to vent to when they’re just having a bad day. 
DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD TOPSHAM POLICE OFFICER RANDY COOK has been the school resource officer going on five years now at Mt. Ararat High School. It’s a job that allows him to do a different kind of policing, to teach and to build relationships with students, giving them a safe place to talk about what may be troubling them or a friendly face to vent to when they’re just having a bad day. DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD Often, people encounter police officers when they are a victim or perpetrator of a crime — not generally a positive experience.

So it would be unsurprising that their presence in schools may evoke unease at first. But what students quickly realize is that officers in the schools are much more than law enforcers, they are counselors, educators, mentors — a resource for students.

Topsham Police Officer Randy Cook has worked for nearly five years as the school resource officer at Mt. Ararat High School. He stepped into the role after the school had been without one for a number of years.


DETECTIVE JOHN ROMA has served as a school resource officer at Brunswick High School since September. It’s a job that has kept him busier than he expected, working on security issues at the school but also building relationships with the students, many who stop in his office to talk about various issues they may be dealing with. 
DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD DETECTIVE JOHN ROMA has served as a school resource officer at Brunswick High School since September. It’s a job that has kept him busier than he expected, working on security issues at the school but also building relationships with the students, many who stop in his office to talk about various issues they may be dealing with. DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD Cook said when he first arrived, it was a tough transition because students didn’t know why he was there and were standoffish.

“Between building relationships with kids, dealing with behavior issues during the day, working with the crisis management plans here all the time,” Cook said of his daily activities, “I have a tendency to teach in classes.”

This morning he was conducting an assembly on digital citizenship for freshmen and sophomore classes.

“You’re a police officer, you’re a counselor, you’re an educator,” Cook said. “You’re all three of those things.”

Detective John Roma has been the school resource officer at Brunswick High School since September. He is busier than he ever expected.

On any given day, he could be checking doors to make sure they’re locked, working with administrators on how to make emergency procedures better, or — and most likely — connecting with students for whom he is “just another resource.”

Roma recalled talking with students about stresses at school and problems at home. Some have talked to them when they’re worried about friends. It’s taken some time to build a rapport with the high school students, he said, noting that early in the year he spent a lot of time walking the halls, saying “hi” and being a familiar face.

“Once one comes in,” Roma said, “the word spreads that ‘he’s not a bad guy.’”

Often students just want to stop by and take a load off, Cook said.

Roma also shows up at sporting events, dances and concerts, so students can see him involved in their community.

“Out on the street, we’re dealing with everybody on their worst day,” Roma said, “and here I get to deal with people when they’re in a good mood and having a positive interaction with people.

“I get to smile, joke and laugh with them,” he added. “I get to know them on a personal level and see their successes and see the good days, so it’s uplifting to been a part of that.”

Roma believes he’s been able to make a difference by helping students through their issues.

“Police work has such a negative social stigma right now,” he said, “so, if we can build a relationship with people when they’re young, they can see police officers not in just a negative way.”

Trends with school issues have changed through the years. Cook noted that his predecessor dealt with drugs and fights; when he arrived he was handling student sexting concerns, a trend that seems to have faded.

“Bullying and harassment issues are a big problem,” said Cook, noting that those continue beyond the school day.

Roma has seen the impact recent school shooting incidents has had on students.

“Because of recent events, I’ve had some very sad conversations with some of them,” Roma said. “I’ve had a couple of students come and ask me if something happened here, ‘Are you going to run away and hide outside?’”

His answer?

“I’m not going to run away; I’m not going to hide,” Roma said. “I’m not here to do that, I’m here to keep you guys safe.”

Like Roma, Cook said his office is a revolving door many days and often kids are lined up on the bench outside waiting their turn.

“I’ll be here as long as they want me,” Cook said.

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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