School resource officers ensure safety, set high expectations for students

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - School Resource Officer Kristan Rinell assists Metzger Elementary students. Rinell also serves Mary Woodward Elementary School, Fowler Middle School, Durham Center Alternative School and St. Anthony School. Tigard Police Officer Kristan Rinell laughs when asked to explain her typical day.

The school resource officer for the Tigard-Tualatin School District patrols Metzger Elementary School, Mary Woodward Elementary School, Fowler Middle School, Durham Center Alternative School and St. Anthony’s School. In general, she acts as both police liaison and on-campus law enforcement. She serves as educator in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) programs.

But her “average day” might include investigating suspected cases of child abuse, instructing parents of students about homelessness resources available and even making the occasional arrest —although not at the elementary school level.

“There have been places and times when it would have been quite applicable (to arrest a child in grade school), but there are other avenues that have been taken. A lot of these kids have emotional issues. Law enforcement isn’t really going to fix the problem,” she says.

Instead, she prefers to work closely with school staff, such as Metzger Elementary School’s counselor Sue Porter, who views the school resource officer’s presence as a proactive way to respond to issues as they arise on campus.

“When she’s available, she’ll do an impromptu drop-in at assemblies and talk to kids about how they need to treat each other,” Porter says.

Rinell is one of four such on-campus officers working out of the Tigard Police Department. Each has their own beat, or cluster of schools where they patrol and teach. Each serves in a four-year rotational position. Rinell arrives on campus fully “suited up” and carrying all the duty weapons one would expect from a patrol officer — gun, Taser, pepper spray, handcuffs, vest and radio. This is necessary, she says, due to her role as first responder in the event of a campus crime or school-wide lockdown.

“I think the biggest benefit with us as police officers is our partnership with the staff at the school,” she says. This enables her to work in an ongoing way with at-risk students, and to provide resources to their families. But sometimes the uniform speeds along progress — for example, she has observed that it can sometimes take the presence of a law enforcement official for parents to take their children’s bullying issues seriously.

“I typically will partner with the school personnel because it’s a united front,” Riddell says. “It’s parents of the bully, who really need to understand it’s not just kids being kids.”

Education, education, education

Much of Rinell’s job is not punitive. She recognizes there is a distinct advantage to having the same law enforcement official around to teach drug and alcohol education and follow up with students.

“It isn’t just about saying, ‘No.’ That doesn’t work,” Rinell says. “It’s really about establishing relationships and setting some expectations with the children. It’s saying, ‘Now that you know, I expect this of you, and now you know the harmful effects of drugs, make a better choice for yourself.’”

In addition to leading DARE and GREAT classes, Rinell teaches regular courses around topics ranging from life skills to proper use of technology. At the third and fifth grade levels, she emphasizes to students that anything they post on the Internet is out there forever, and that there’s no such thing as total privacy online.

And even though phones are not allowed in school, Rinell has fielded a couple issues involving “sexting,” or text messages of a sexual nature.

“Kids are way too trusting,” she said, explaining that even at the middle school level, it’s not unheard of for one student to forward another an explicit photo. In these cases, Rinell confronts the students involved, confiscates the phones and removes any offensive material. Of course, if photos or messages have been sent on, there’s little that can be done on the school level.

“It’s all about education, education, education,” she says. “It begins with the parents, who quite frankly allow way too much Internet freedom for their children. Kids are not able to navigate their way around that kind of freedom. So is it going to still happen? Absolutely, because parents are still naive and unaware.”

Sometimes a family matter

Rinell has found a way to balance her role as a trusted fixture at school and as a patrol officer. It’s a useful skill, Rinell says, because she has arrested some of the students’ parents in the past.

“That’s a weird dynamic,” she admits. “But because I’ve established a relationship, I tend to believe they do hear a little bit of what I say. I talk about jail being a big ‘time-out’ place for parents. It doesn’t mean you’re bad or they’re bad, it was just a bad choice was made, and this is the consequence.”

Being a consistent presence on each of the campuses she serves has gained Rinell the trust not only of the students, but of their families as well. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a parent to approach Rinell and ask whether there’s a warrant out for his or her arrest.

“If you’ve been arrested before, you know it’s best to deal with an arrest early in the week, rather than be caught later and have to sit in jail all weekend,” Rinell said. “And if you have holidays coming up — people just want to take care of it.”

There have been times when Rinell has indeed found a warrant out for the arrest of a concerned parent. In these cases, she works with them to discretely arrest and take them to the police station.

In the line of duty

Rinell admits that it hasn’t been an easy assignment. As Porter puts it, “There are 600 kid in this school alone, and one of her. Some of them are homeless, some of them don’t have their shoes or coats.”

After suffering an ulcer her first year as a campus officer, Rinell realized she had to take the job one day, and one student, at a time. Sometimes her best hope is to make a positive lasting impression.

Mainly, Rinell views the school resource officer program as a preemptive strike. After seven years on the police force, she’s gone out on identical calls to arrest the same people who are making the same mistakes. Being in a position to work with children, however, allows her to show them how to correct their behaviors and stay on the right side of the law.

“These are just little people trying to make it,” Rinell says. “And quite frankly, they’ve got a lot of cards stacked up against them. It motivates you to do your best every day.”

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