Relationships & role models: School resource officers provide more than security


While the common perception of school resource officers is that their job is to provide safety and security on campus, the officers themselves believe they serve another function that’s equally important; building relationships and being good role models for students.

Delaware City Police Officers Larry Lucas and John Hartman maintain a presence at Dempsey Middle School and Hayes High School and give presentations at the elementary schools around the district. The officers teach classes and talk with students about a variety of issues, including health, legal issues, driving, self-defense, and safety.

“Obviously, the safety and security of the school are our primary concern, but that’s not really the primary thing we do on a day to day basis,” Lucas said. “[Day to day is about] fostering relationships with the kids, acting as quasi-counselors.”

Hartman agreed and said he stands in front of Dempsey in the morning, greeting students and showing them that someone knows who they are and is happy to see them.

“It’s about being a positive role model,” Hartman said.

Lucas said sometimes their job can be challenging because of a student’s prior interaction or perception of police.

“Outside the school setting, their interactions with police might not be positive,” Lucas said. “This allows us to be in uniform and interact with them and show them that not all interactions with law enforcement have to be negative.”

Dan Bartha, the principal at Dempsey Middle School, said the school resource officers are an invaluable asset.

“Having them is a huge benefit for us, to have that link between the community and the school,” Bartha said. “Our priority every day is to provide the safest environment we can for our students, but on every given day [Hartman] is out there building relationships with students and helping kids make good choices.”

Both officers said the biggest issue the face day to day involves social media.

“This generation is extremely social electronically,” Lucas said. “Because of that, social media lends itself to some issues. A lot of kids, especially at Hayes, sometimes their self-worth and self-identity runs concurrent with how they are seen on social media.”

Hartman said social media is challenging because of how rapidly things can evolve and escalate.

“You can take an isolated thing that could be dealt with very quickly and it can instantly explode into hundreds of people knowing about it and causing problems throughout the school, throughout the day,” Hartman said. “It can be a lot harder to address.”

Lucas said that one of the major downsides of social media is how easily it enables bullies.

“Bullying has always been around,” Lucas said. “The difference is, when you and I were in school, at the end of the day the bullying stopped. Now the bullying is 24/7, 365 days a year, and you could have thousands upon thousands of people chiming in and witnessing. I feel for these kids, this electronic era is tough, I couldn’t do it. For these kids, it’s constant and they live with it.”

Hartman and Lucas said they would conservatively estimate that 74 percent of issues they address have to do with social media.

However, Lucas said that social media is not all bad and added that it’s a great way to learn about the climate and dynamic of the school.

Hartman said he and Lucas have taken extra training to be adept at social media and said they constantly have to keep up with new platforms and trends.

Bartha echoed Lucas and Hartman’s comments and said he and the staff are trying to instill in their students the importance of making good choices online because the consequences could be disastrous.

“We try to be proactive in talking about how to use social media,” Bartha said.

Bartha said he and Hartman are constantly talking to parents at Dempsey about being aware of what social media their children consume and take part in.

“The best thing parents can do is be aware of whether their students is online and be aware of what they are putting out there and the longevity of those choices. Talk to your kids. You can sit back and complain or you can be proactive and learn about it,” he said.

“They are a great generation of kids,” Bartha said. “They’re smart, they are skilled and they are going to do great things moving forward, we just have to help give them a foundation to use those skills in a positive way.”

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School Resource Officers Larry Lucas, left, and John Hartman, right, oversee a fire drill at Dempsey Middle School last Friday morning. The two men said in addition to providing security, they believe their job is to build good relationships with and be positive role models for students.
http://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2017/08/web1_DSC_0461.jpgSchool Resource Officers Larry Lucas, left, and John Hartman, right, oversee a fire drill at Dempsey Middle School last Friday morning. The two men said in addition to providing security, they believe their job is to build good relationships with and be positive role models for students. Glenn Battishill | The Gazette

By Glenn Battishill

gbattishill@delgazette.com

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.