Uvalde rekindles looming fears of school cop
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Tony Ramaeker averages about 14,000 steps a day as he strolls through the Nebraska high school where he is assigned to work as a sheriff’s deputy, greeting students arriving in the morning, wandering the halls to talk to them and watch out for those who might be eating alone in the cafeteria.
The longtime former Navy and youth pastor keeps his office in suburban Omaha stocked with treats such as Little Debbie snacks and Pop-Tarts because eating helps children in crisis calm down and talk.
But in the back of his mind, a thought still hovers: what would he do if a gunman attacked the school?
The latest reminder of this danger came in May when 19 children and two teachers were killed in a fourth grade classroom in Uvalde, Texas. Fear that the next shooting could happen in their hallways weighs on school resource officers across the United States, exacerbating an already difficult job: They are being called upon to be combat-ready officers that parents and students can do trust to protect them without making students feel uncomfortable or targeted.
Reminders of the threat of school shootings were rife at a recent National Association of School Resource Officers conference in Colorado, where hundreds of officers gathered for training.
An exhibit hall featured booths with companies selling ideas for stopping the next school shooter, such as door locks and simulation machines to mimic shootings. One company introduced collapsible semi-automatic rifles. She said a school resource officer brought a Hello Kitty backpack to her school in Alabama.
“Mom and dad don’t want to see this gun in their school, but it has to be there,” said Dan Pose, CEO of Gulf Coast Tactical, which sells the guns.
Officers also attended sessions to find out what went right and what went wrong in past school shootings. In one, they heard of a school security guard’s failure to send an alert when he initially spotted the Parkland School shooter walking on campus. The armed school resource officer accused of hiding during the shooting was later charged with criminal negligence.
In another, they received a briefing about a 2019 school shooting in Coloradoin which a secretly armed private security guard accidentally injured two students.
A Colorado County sheriff also pointed to a more subtle failure in the response to that fatal 2019 shooting: Officers needlessly traumatized evacuated elementary students by having them line up with their hands over their heads, even though authorities knew that the gunmen involved were either teenagers or adults.
“This will last a lifetime,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said, holding up the photo of the children, one of whom has his hands clasped in prayer instead. Later, he explained that he wanted to encourage school resource officers to use discretion and find ways to minimize trauma for children.
Officer Roy Mitchell Jr. said he tries not to let the build-up to a shooting dominate his thoughts, but watches entrances and windows for anyone unknown who walks into the suburban high school from Baltimore where he works. He also considers where he would try to move the students in the event of an attack.
“I always try to have some sort of game plan in my head,” he said.
Ramaeker said he believes he will not hesitate to do all he can to protect his students and staff. He even thought about how he would use the handgun he strapped to his hip if he didn’t have time to get a rifle he’s kept safe in the building since the shooting. from Parkland School in 2018.
They and other Colorado officers for the conference stressed that building relationships and getting to know what’s going on in students’ lives is vital to all aspects of the job — whether they’re acting as confidants or cops.
Some offer to help make waffles and pancakes during cooking classes or serve lunch when cafeteria workers are sick. Others crowd into the desks in the back row to observe what the students are learning. They are encouraged to teach a course on topics such as civil rights of citizens and the judicial process. They keep tabs on who is driving what cars, who is dating who, and who might be having lunch in the bathroom because they have no friends.
It’s an intense version of community policing that they hope will make them positive role models while helping them learn about all kinds of threats emerging in their schools.
Lt. Sandra F. Calloway-Crim, who served as a school resource officer in Valley, Alabama, for 18 years, said she received a call late at night after patrol officers found a 13-year-old student. years in one of his wandering schools. outside alone in pajamas. She knew the boy’s father would be working night shifts but his mother would be home and ordered officers to take the boy there.
Yet some activists say the police have no place in a school at all. Some districts have dumped police officers in schools during protests against racial injustice following the 2020 killing of George Floyd amid criticism that they disproportionately arrested black students, dragging them into the system of criminal justice.
Officers from Fremont, Calif., were pulled from schools but brought back a year later after negotiating the terms of a new deal with officials. They spoke at the recent conference, encouraging supervisors to keep track of all the positive interactions they have with students to help balance reporting on investigations and arrests that police normally only document. .
Don Bridges, who started a school resource officer program in suburban Baltimore in 1989, bristles at criticism of the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Bridges, who is black, saw the program as a way to build relationships between students and law enforcement after seeing too many people who looked like him get arrested while working on patrol. He said the presence of police in schools does not lead to targeting black students when officers are properly trained.
Detective Beth Sanborn drops what she does at home and goes to work every time her phone explodes with messages from students at the campus where she works in suburban Philadelphia about a social media post seen as threatening.
She sometimes feels guilty for putting the needs of her “school children” ahead of her own children. Emotional outbursts, fights and the fallout of failed relationships tend to be more on her mind than the possibility of a gunfight, but she said building rapport with her students is key to preventing all sorts of mishaps. problems.
“While it still has the potential to be there, what we hope is that by emphasizing that sense of community, we can avoid any kind of violence,” she said. declared.
After the Parkland School Resource Officer failed to intervene when a student opened fire in 2018, students at a high school in Cullman, Alabama asked Officer Seth Sullivan if he was promising to protect them.
“You’re damn skippy, I’ll be in there.” These are my children,” Sullivan said.
Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.
This release fixes the style of weapons referenced in the sixth paragraph of the story, semi-automatic rifles, not assault rifles.