SWANTON VILLAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER PROGRAM
“COMMITED TO PEACE, SCHOLASTIC ACHEIVEMENT, TOLERANCE, RESPECT, CIVILITY AND EMPTY PRISON CELLS”
SCHOOL YEAR AUGUST 2017 – JUNE 2018
The Swanton Village Police Department's School Resource Officer Program at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle School and High School was established in August 2009, and is currently entering its ninth year of operation. Since its establishment, the Program and the Office of Student Affairs have worked in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social service providers and the community with great success. The result has been the creation of a calm welcoming educational environment founded in acceptance, tolerance and understanding. Today, disciplinary referrals are down by over two thirds, and arrests are rare. Administrative referrals for harassment and bullying are also at an all time low, and a spirit of harmony and inclusion continues to permeate the entire school.
However, the Program's overall success at MVU is directly attributable to the collaborative commitment and efforts of law enforcement officers and public educators working in unison to build strong healthy relationships with young people. This unified strategy has resulted in the early identification, detection and intervention in serious public safety issues at school and in the community. To date, there have been no deaths or serious injuries at MVU since the Program's inception.
The SRO is a Certified Police Officer in the State of Vermont, and an honorably retired federal agent with over 46 years of professional experience. He holds a Baccalaureate Degree with Honors in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University in Boston, and has completed and graduated from the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford, Vermont, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, the Federal Bureau of Prisons Training Academy in Atlanta, Georgia and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Training Academy in Framingham, Massachusetts, and is now entering his 16th year as an Adjunct Instructor of Criminal Justice and his 11th year as a Certified New York Police Academy Instructor. As the department's police officer assigned to MVU, he also participates in continuing professional in-service training sponsored by the Vermont Police Academy and other agencies throughout the year.
The primary mission of the Program is to serve as the first responder in all critical incidents at MVU, and to this end, is fully supported in its mission by a staff of fifteen Swanton Police Officers; Franklin County State's Attorney's Office; Vermont State Police; Vermont State Drug Task Force; Franklin County Sheriff's Department, St. Albans Police Department; Northwest Unit for Special Investigations; Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, HSI, and the Vermont Department of Corrections, Field Supervision Unit.
Additionally, the Program is also completely interfaced with the Swanton Fire Department, Missisquoi Valley Rescue, Vermont Department of Children and Families, Northwest Counseling and Support Service's Mental Health Crisis Team and the Howard Center.
PHILOSOPHY AND OPERATIONS:
The SRO is embedded in the school and fully subscribes to the time honored beat cop approach to young people and their issues, and maintains an open door policy in addressing the needs of the student community. The relationship between the SRO and the student community is close, harmonious, and devoid of the customary protocols traditionally associated with cops and young people. Additionally, youths are also encouraged to access the SRO after hours in the event of a serious problem.
The Program's philosophy is very simple. It acknowledges and accepts the fact that being young and inexperienced in the ways of a world gone completely mad can often times result in a periodic, or occasional lapse in judgment. Therefore, criminal justice proceedings in matters involving young people are invoked only when absolutely necessary. The SRO subscribes to three adages with regard to being young, hire a teenager while they still know it all, with age comes wisdom and, that every kid in these times should be able to count at least one cop among his or her best friends.
Unfortunately however, most police encounters with young people usually involve some form of transgression. In these situations, patience, understanding and tolerance are the key to the Program's strategy. Many times, a second or even a third chance maybe necessary to guide a struggling youngster to a new reality. While the approach may seem a bit liberal and permissive, it should be remembered that adolescence is the only period in a young person's life when time is on our side. We know from our own experiences as young people that most youngsters will eventually transition successfully from adolescence to adulthood. Thus, a calm, non-judgmental approach with young people can often lead a youngster to a critical re-thinking of his/her perception of the world, and this can be transformative. During the past eight years, it has been the Program's experience that a sustained, patient approach with youngsters can result in positive behavioral changes that transcend adolescence, and significantly shift the odds in favor of a positive outcome.
The MVU Football Program has also served to bolster the Program, and the school's on-going efforts to expand its cultural reach, by bringing more youngsters out of the shadows and into the life of the school. However, more importantly, MVU Football has served to instill a sense of self esteem and confidence in countless youngsters to strive for excellence both on the football field, and in the classroom.
CLIMATE AND CULTURE:
The school is a microcosm of our larger society, complete with all of its successes, tragedies and dangers. Thus, no issue weighs more heavily on the Program than the specter of gun violence and adolescent drug abuse. Unfortunately, the State of Vermont's School Gun Law is woefully out dated and almost completely inadequate to address the new threat of gun violence that confronts our schools today. Additionally, spiraling adolescent mental health issues (alcoholism, drug addiction, the use of heroin, opiate based pharmaceuticals, marijuana, self harm and suicide) continue to compound and complicate these challenges. Unfortunately, as mental health driven gun tragedies increase and controlled substance abuse rates sky rocket nationally and locally, resources for mental health and adolescent drug abuse treatment continue to be scarce, or overwhelmed.
In the face of this escalating public safety/public health crisis, the Program continues to work closely and cooperatively with area law enforcement agencies to identify the sources of supply for controlled substances and bring prosecutions. The school has also responded by re-doubling its efforts to facilitate the early identification of middle school aged (12 to 13 years of age) and high school aged (14 to 18 years of age) students, who maybe at risk from mental heath issues and substance abuse. Additionally, the Program and the Swanton Police Department continue to advocate for additional funding and programming for controlled substance education and treatment, and expanded mental health services. As a result, an NCSS Mental Health Clinician is now co-located at MVU three days a week.
PROTECTION AND GUIDANCE:
The Program continues to work diligently every day to develop positive, sound relationships with young people, and consequently enjoys excellent relationships, and wide acceptance with an ever increasing number of youngsters, not only at MVU, but throughout Franklin County. Because of these relationships, the Program is directly in touch with the thoughts, feelings, issues and behaviors of the area's young people, and has become one of the principle underpinnings for the safety and security of the school and the community at large. Simply stated, friendships built on trust greatly enhance school safety, and serve to support efforts to prevent and intervene in adverse and potentially tragic situations. At this time in our nation's life, there is no substitute for cooperation, and timely and actionable intelligence in protecting schools and the community.
COPS AND YOUNG PEOPLE:
The Program has also excelled in reducing the harmful stereotypes that once served to separate cops and young people in the community. In doing so, officers quickly discovered that many young people had become isolated, and sorely lacking in access to credible people with real life experiences and perspectives and as a result had absolutely no place to turn for advice and guidance with the exception of their naive and sometimes misinformed peers, and the undesirables, who too often inhabit their world. In addressing this need, officers discovered that many of the community's young people even began introducing them to other youngsters from other schools in the surrounding area.
Today's young people like many of their peers and elders, are a drift, and yearn for something better than the status quo that is being offered up on the streets. They come seeking advice, guidance, safety and the acceptance that accompanies real friendship, and more often than not, these young people are shocked to find that their friend(s) has introduced them to a cop.
Most cops know a criminal when they meet one, and that highly developed professional skill is at the heart of the Program's philosophy and success. Generally, youthful behavior and conduct is most often the product of innocence, isolation, confusion, conflict and vulnerability, and can easily be confused with criminality. Thus, the Program has de-emphasized the traditional application of consequences and accountability, today's politically correct code for punishment and sanctions. Instead the program embraces a posture that recognizes the future value of all kids, and their current individual situations, by responding calmly and thoughtfully to transgressions, while translating those incidents into teachable moments. Modeling civility, capacity, listening and understanding with young people, and assisting them in exploring their issues, serves to promote a youth's understanding of all the dimensions and impact of their transgression, while exposing young people to reason, kindness, and reconciliation; qualities sorely lacking in today's world.
In closing, the larger goal of the School Resource Officer Program is the hope that every police officer will come to fully understand the critical importance of every encounter with every young person, and use that encounter as an opportunity to provide constructive guidance and insight, because strong, positive, relationships with young people, along with a WELL DEVELOPED SENSE OF HUMOR!! are the key to enhancing not only school and public safety, but respect for the spirit of the law and our institutions of justice.
Kevin J. Cleary, BSCJ
Swanton Police Department
PRIMARY DUTIES OFTHE SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER
1. Police and Public Safety Advisor to the Principal and Director of Student Affairs; First Responder In All School Emergencies; Law Enforcement Coordinator and Supervisor for all Lockdown Drills.
2. Being a likable, highly approachable and accessible police officer for young people.
3. Being a police presence on campus empowered to address criminal issues by providing and applying specialized investigative and enforcement resources to all criminal offenses impacting students and/or the safe and orderly operation of the school.
4. Providing constitutional and criminal law related education; violence, alcohol and drug prevention, intervention and education, along with advice, guidance and insight regarding real world expectations and consequences.
5. Assisting and supporting the school administration in the timely identification and resolution of problems.
6. Serving as a safe place for all young people; a sanctuary and sounding board for angry agitated, or at risk young people seeking relief from the pressures and problems of the day.
7. An advocate for forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation and tolerance, and a guide to professional intervention and treatment.
8. A credible resource for young people, parents and teachers. A problem solver and a contributing, participant in conferences and proceedings as necessary.
9. A source of comfort, counseling and direction for young people in matters pertaining to their individual health, welfare and safety.
10. A source for candid and frank career information and insights for young people interested in a career in the criminal justice system.
11. Supporting and protecting the integrity of the school transportation system by stepping up enforcement presence, and addressing any and all matters impacting safety.
12. Understanding the importance of the SRO position as a calling and a critical mission of the police profession, and its direct impact on the lives and futures of the country's young people, and an awareness that being a safe and trusted friend to our young is a 24/7 tour.