The first Saline Area Schools Board of Education meeting for the month of May started out with trustees hearing a presentation by City of Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Curt Ellis concerning the possibility of adding another school resource officer for the district.
Since the high school is in Pittsfield Township, that department currently provides an officer assigned to the building.
Ellis said it would be tremendously beneficial to have an additional officer to cover the lower grade level buildings within the city proper.
“Because of the unique situation in our district where we have two schools in Pittsfield Township and then five other schools in the City of Saline, the capacity to cross those boundaries really doesn’t exist,” he said. “So, when Chief Hart started his tenure here in December, he along with City Manager Todd Campbell, Superintendent (Scot) Graden and I had some informal discussions about what it might look like to expand that school resource officer program to some of the buildings here in Saline.”
This latest proposal certainly isn’t the districts first foray in partnering with city police, however.
“Many of you know Dave Ringe has been doing a lot of proactive policing for us throughout the years and certainly those conversations included some of the things he had done, but we wanted to present to you a concept tonight, and maybe answer any questions that you might have, about what it might look like to include a second school resource officer here in the City of Saline.”
Hart said he acted for a time as a school resource officer in his former department and enjoyed the mutually beneficial dynamic of the situation.
“My passion in starting the school resource program in August of 1999 in the City of Novi was really to connect with kids,” he said, “to have that opportunity outside of having a nuisance complaint or dealing with some other negative police-citizen, especially youth, contact.”
Being able to reach kids at an early age is an enormous upside of having a school resource officer at the lower grade level buildings, Hart said.
“We have, I think, here a unique opportunity to do things that I was unable to do at the high school level, and that was to be a lot more proactive at the elementary and the middle school level,” he said. “I think this is really taking a school and a municipality’s relationship to the next level, to be proactive for our school community.”
Hart said the model he follows is a national, three-part system dictating standard conduct for school resource officers.
“First and foremost, the police officer is a guest speaker, so we do have some of us in the schools now that Officer (Dave) Ringe has trained in the TEAM (teaching, educating and mentoring) method through Michigan State Police,” he said, “but taking it to the next level and making a police officer available five days a week throughout the school year and to have more of a commitment to the schools.”
Next, it is the officer’s responsibility to act as something of a consultant and confidant.
“And the second part of that is being a mentor and counselor,” he said. “There were lots of time where I hung around after school on my own time to speak to parents, to speak to students and faculty members, and offer them advice and a better way of moving forward in situations.”
The last portion of the three-part approach is actually the least deployed aspect of the job, Hart said.
“And lastly, there are time where we have to be the police, but that’s few and far between,” he said. “When we have a formal relationship in the form of a school resource officer, that police officer knows the culture of the school, they know the faculty members and they’re just able to work better in that environment with the educators and the students and the parents.”
Ellis said the person assigned the position would likely have an office at the middle school.
Hart said he knows whoever it is must have a certain knack for interacting with some of the youngest members of our community.
“I would never put a square peg in a round hole,” he said. “It takes a special person to be in that position, and I know we have at least one at the Saline Police Department that’s very, very interested.”
Once decided upon, the chosen officer would go through rigorous training, according to Hart.
“There are trainings that are held off-school year, usually in the months of July and early August, with NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) and if there’s not one scheduled in Michigan we would host one at the Saline Police Department.”
Hart said there is the potential down the road that the resource officer’s salary could be paid for via a grant.
For the time being, Graden said it will come from the school district’s general fund and be allocated for in the budgeting process.