In light of the current debate of SROs in our schools, as Franklin County Sheriff, I’d like to offer my thoughts and understanding of the program after years of being a School Resource Officer (SRO) in both Chittenden and Franklin Counties.
A School Resource Officer is exactly that, a resource for the school community to draw on when needed. The SRO‘s primary responsibility is the safety of the school, students, staff and visitors. School safety was the driving force behind the creation of the SRO program nationwide in the 1950s However what the SRO program has developed into, is what makes it irreplaceable. The relationships that are created between the SRO and families last a lifetime. As one of the first VT State Troopers assigned as an SRO, one of my command staff was not initially in favor of the program. When I was assigned as the SRO for Mount Mansfield Union High School (MMU), Jericho Elementary and Browns River Elementary Schools from 2000-2003, I had created relationships with students that continue today. I have written recommendations on college applications, assisted in locating summer jobs for students, provided encouragement to students who doubted their abilities and challenged them to be the best they could be. As the MMU SRO, I assisted with coaching the boys hockey team while instilling the values of discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship. I also instructed in the classroom during health class with presentations on the dangers of illegally using drugs and in drivers education class, discussing motor vehicle law. Years after I left the position, data gathered confirmed the positive experience and impact the SRO program was having on the community. My command staff was now in full support.
The program is not about making arrests. The program first and foremost is about influencing positive behavior, developing and building long lasting relationships with students of all ages, their families and the community. SROs connect with students on many levels. As a friend, mentor, educator, law enforcement, neighbor and member of the community. At school I had lunch with the students, talked about various topics and concerns, listened when a child needed someone to talk to, or assisted a teacher when the occasion would arise. The SRO seeks out those who need assistance and with time relationships are built on a willingness to listen and understand their issues. As a matter of fact, the program is designed to influence positive behavior and keep students out of the court system utilizing resources that increase opportunities for success.
As a St Albans Police Officer, from 2015-2019, I was assigned to St Albans Town Educational Center as their SRO. I took this position because I consider the SRO the best job I had during my career as a Trooper. As an SRO, my first task was to perform a threat assessment for the school. SATEC posed an interesting challenge. It had only one access in and out of the school. In collaboration with the Northwest Medical Center, Governor’s Highway Safety Program, St Albans Town selectboard, St Albans Town Fire Department & VT Agency of Transportation we were able to get an emergency access road approved for construction in the rear of the school onto the state access road. The process took 1 ½ yrs and SATEC constructed the emergency access, an access that had previously been discussed and denied countless times in the past.
Each of the entities that signed on to approve the access acknowledged that the climate around school safety had changed and some processes needed to change in the interest of school safety. This safety measure is something that we will never know how many lives it will save in the event of a school emergency, mass evacuation of SATEC or serving as medical surge area in the event of a local catastrophe.
During my time at SATEC, I recall monitoring several relief from abuse orders (RFA) or temporary relief orders (TRO). These orders specify which parent has custody, usually Mom. This always posed the greatest threat to any school, a parent who was court ordered not to have contact with their child or children coming to the school and demanding taking custody of their children. Working with the school, those orders were enforced but not without great communication between all parties that were most effective because law enforcement was on site to assist with enforcement.
Another example of the value of the relationships formed as a SRO where the ending can not be measured. Recently, I was called as Sheriff to assist St Albans Police (SAPD) with a barricaded 17 year old juvenile refusing to come out of his residence in St Albans Town. SAPD had the home surrounded. The parent had left the residence as the juvenile had become violent. SAPD advised the juvenile would speak with me as I was his SRO when he was in school. The issue was peacefully resolved within minutes of my arrival. This past year as Sheriff, I have been contacted by parents of students that I had worked with during my years as an SRO. Parents asked if I could stop at their house and speak with their child concerning some poor behavior choices their child was making. These are good kids, these are stressful times, parents are stressed, some are single parents, some are grandparents raising their grandkids etc. The SRO program connects with these families and provides very valuable resources that helps to keep families together. It is an honor to sit at the kitchen table to be welcomed into these homes and assist with their family issue.
Currently the Sheriff’s Office has three SROs. These SROs are seasoned deputies and deeply committed to the schools they represent. Franklin County Sheriff SROs have attended the National Association of School Resource Officer (NASRO) basic and advanced SRO training and two have attended the Law Enforcement Against Drug training (L.E.A.D.). Selecting the right SRO is key to the SRO program succeeding in the future as is obtaining factual information on evaluating the program. While no program is perfect, it is my opinion that the SRO program is the best program in law enforcement because it is based on early intervention and education.
Most kids will never remember my name 20-30 years from now. What I hope they remember is that their school had a School Resource Officer. How they will remember the SRO is important. I hope what they remember is that I remembered their name as they walked down the hallway, asked how they did on their math exam or their basketball game or what was the best book they ever read? Today, teaching our youth never stops and for us adults, learning never stops.
Franklin County Sheriff
Roger Langevin M.S. CJ/L