School resource officers find
police presence is an educational tool

(ST. CHARLES, Mo.) -- St. Charles Police Officer Britt Duncan could cite a lot of personal reasons why he loves his job as a school resource officer at St. Charles West High School.

Working with good people, regular hours and relatively low stress would make the list. But the most important reward Duncan, 41, said what he gets from his job is similar to the answer other officers give.

"The biggest factor is I like doing this job. I like dealing with these kids," Duncan said. "It's a rewarding opportunity for me in my career."

Apparently, the school district finds benefits in having officers at school, too. John Urkevich, an assistant superintendent in the St. Charles district, said the district will pay 75 percent of the salary for one middle school officer. Next year, he said, the district will pick up 75 percent of the other middle school officer's salary.

The city's school district has four school resource officers and two officers assigned to the DARE program. Right now, the city picks up the tab, Urkevich said. The district's contribution eventually will be between $ 95,000 and $ 98,000, Urkevich said, but it's worth it.

The resource officers bring more than just police work, Urkevich said, they also teach. "They take on a much broader role," he said.

Pat Houlahan, director of administrative services for the Francis Howell District, agreed. The county sheriff's department provides five resource officers to the district - one at Howell High and one each in Bryan, Howell, Hollenbeck and Barnwell middle schools - at no cost. The district shares some of the cost for Cottleville and St. Peters police officers to help, too.

Figures for the St. Peters contribution were not available, but Houlahan said the district contributes a little more than $ 10,600 to Cottleville. "We get a lot of bang for that buck," he said. "They are there basically to be a positive force in the schools."

In Wentzville, the district and the city each pick up one-third of the salaries and a federal grant picks up the other third.

Lt. Craig McGuire, who is in charge of resource and DARE officers for the county sheriff's department, said the department spends roughly $ 360,000 in salaries for a total of nine resource and DARE officers and about $ 22,000 in supplies.

As far as Deputy Tom Ban is concerned, that's money well spent. Ban, 44, is in his fourth year as a resource officer in the Orchard Farm district. He was skeptical at first, but now he wouldn't be dragged away from his job, he said. He felt that way after his first six months on the job, he said.

"It was like, this is an awesome job," Ban said. He said the program calls for him to be more than just an officer. He spends a lot of time educating kids. He talks to elementary school students about walking home safely. High school students might hear about date rape or domestic violence law.

St. Charles West's Duncan, like most of the officers interviewed for this story, said he spends a lot of his time counseling. Students, parents - even administrators - have come to him with problems, he said. The trust with students is so strong that some students will wait until Monday to report weekend crimes to him, he said. He doesn't encourage that, he said, but it shows the strength of the trust.

"They get to know the person behind the uniform," he said.

Deputy Dan Maixner, 37, who roams Howell High's halls, agreed. "They get to see me as not an adversary anymore," Maixner said, but more as a friend and a role model."

McGuire said the law enforcement part of being a school resource officer is still important. The number of crimes committed at schools has decreased tremendously, he said, especially assaults, which have decreased by 60 to 70 percent.

But more importantly, McGuire said, the program prevents crime instead of dealing with it after it happens. "As an overall goal of our program, we try and have a good, positive contact with the kids from the time they enter school as a kindergartner to the time they graduate from high school," he said.

Ban agreed. "The kids grow up with a law enforcement officer, so they can see we're not the boogeyman, that we're here to help."

(iSyndicate; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Nov. 8, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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