As I’m sitting down to write this, I’m fresh off of reading the comprehensive break down of the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I’m sitting down next to my wife, and on the floor in front of us is my seven-week-old baby girl, Grace. I’m on paid parental leave from my assignment as a School Resource Officer (SRO) with a local Sheriff’s Department.
The evening that this incident happened is not far from my thoughts. I remember it well, after texting with a dear friend and fellow Sheriff’s Deputy he called me. The information that was coming out was that the was a School Resource Officer assigned to that high school on that day and when the gates of hell opened up upon that school; he didn’t help.
As I talked with my friend and now retired colleague, I broke into tears. I kept imagining the students at the high school I am so privileged to serve; my kids. This is my fourth school year and while I don’t remember their names well, I am really good at remembering their faces.
My wife thinks it’s funny to poke fun at my mini celebrity status. I can’t go anywhere without running into one of my graduated kids and greeting me with a handshake, a hug or a combination of the two, we embrace. Those faces. They are what led me to tears during my phone conversation. The wretched thought that someone would come to do evil to them and they not have anyone to help them. No one coming to stop evil’s domain.
I have embarked on a journey into the active shooter realm. Ever since responding to one and seeing the fallout of one of these tragedies first hand, I have sought training to hone my edge so that I could be as prepared as possible. Going further, I teach about the topic to schools, churches, community groups, and other first responders. My unit, comprised solely of School Resource Officers, has built an active shooter workshop for our school folks from the ground up to prepare our community in the event that that frightful day comes. We want people to be prepared. I don’t share this to wave my own banner but, instead, to share that I am not the anomaly. That I am one of many SROs dedicated to the safety of our schools.
I won’t start to breakdown the failures of the school from policy to practice that unfolded on February 14th, 2018. There are a lot, I want to focus on my brothers and sisters in law enforcement. I want to focus on those who made a promise that they didn’t keep on that day. The lack of the direct to threat response (the national standard for active shooter response), to the absent organization (incident command), there were very few good things done that day. ONE positive I have taken away from everything that I have read is that this failure appears to be localized to one agency, the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, and not a regional issue. It appears as though the Coral Springs police officers who responded did so appropriately, actively seeking stimulus (trying to find a bad guy).
A tally of how many cops responded to this incident without going in to stop the gunman made me sick to my stomach, so much so that I stopped. This example does so much to detract from what an SRO offers. It promotes the idea that it’s the lazy, unmotivated, possibly retired on-duty cop that takes this position. This could not be further from the truth. Our days are jam packed with interaction. Only a small percentage of them being less than positive, official business type interactions. We provide resources to schools and parents, mentor and develop relationships with students and do cop related work when the times comes.
The cop side of being an SRO is the least enjoyable, most who do this job will share the same. Arresting students for drugs and hearing about some of the atrocities that my kids have had to endure really sucks. But it’s my job. I don’t sluff it off to other cops or avoid it, I do the work. My favorite part is the relationship building side with my kids. Getting to see them overcome difficulties in academics, athletics and life is more rewarding than anything else that I’ve done in my twelve-year career. I love seeing young people struggle to achieve betterment for themselves. Seeing a student athlete hit a new personal record in the weight room, bump their grade up, or be awarded a scholarship genuinely fills my heart.
One of my favorite experiences involve arresting a student for possession of narcotic drugs. During my interview, she shared her personal struggle with dependency and expressed her desire to be free of it. After arresting her, she and her father had my business card with my cell phone number. I provided them with information to support her struggle and rehabilitation. She was suspended from my school. The following semester, she came back. Drug free. She came to find me throughout the year and we would discuss success and failures and how to grow as a person. I got to watch her overcome her adversity, successfully complete her senior year, and graduate. Hugging that girl (this only happens after they graduate) after she flipped her tassel has been one of the highlights of my career. That’s why we do it. To see young people struggle, grab them by the hand and walk with them into adulthood. That’s what my job is about. In order to do that well, they, as well as their parents, need to feel safe and secure in their learning environment.
Every time I get to stand in front of students and share information about driving, constitutional law, or law enforcement practices, I have a message that I relay to them. I started relaying this message to them after February 14th, 2018 because it’s important to me that they know how much I care for them. The message that I share with them is about expectations. What their expectations of me should be as their SRO.
Your expectation of me, community member, parent or school staff member can be this: when what will inevitably be the worse day of your life unfolds, I will come running. I am bringing all of the tools, tactics and motivation that I have with me. I won’t sit outside of my school when your kids, my kids, are being hurt waiting for a bad guy to change his mind. When that day comes, if they want your kids, they will encounter the fight of a lifetime. I have been trained well and won’t go easily. I love my life. I love my wife, I love Grace, and I don’t want to die. But, if that day comes that I have to give it to send my kids, my school staff home to the people who love them, then that’s what I’ll give. I made you that promise the day that I took my oath and my mother pinned my badge on my chest. It might be a really bad day for my family, but they know that it’s my honor to do my duty and love my kids well. That’s what your expectation should be.
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