AMERICAN FORK -- American Fork High School is a safer place thanks to the efforts of its administration.
Principal Carolyn Merrill was honored Wednesday by the Utah Council for Crime Prevention as its school administrator of the year. She had been nominated for the honor in October by American Fork Police Chief Lance Call.
"I have had the opportunity to work with Ms. Merrill for the past five years and have found her to be a strong advocate for the students in her care, and a valued supporter of law enforcement's positive interaction with the youth of our community," he wrote in the nomination.
Merrill said she has always appreciated law enforcement.
"I think it is my respect for law enforcement and the great relationship that we have in American Fork," she said in an interview prior to the award presentation. "The school and the American Fork Police Department have a very supportive relationship."
So much so, in fact, that she said the police deserved the award.
"I am very humbled by receiving this," she said. "I think Chief Call deserves it instead. I have humility and appreciation for the honor."
She thanked him for his work with the schools.
"I also think it is a tribute to Chief Call's leadership, willingness to reach out and develop a strong partnership," she said. Part of that partnership has been to let Merrill learn firsthand more of the department and its activities. "He let me train with a SWAT team one Saturday," she said.
Not all training has been that dramatic.
Merrill, Call, other police officers and educators, plus American Fork Chief of Staff Melanie Marsh went to some training in 2004 in Memphis to help educators and law enforcement personnel be prepared in the event of a school shooting such as the one at Columbine.
"It taught us how we should respond in case there is a person with a gun in the school," Merrill said. The school prepares each year to set up a plan for such an event. "Of course we hope we never have to use it, but we want to be prepared just in case."
Like many other schools, AFHS has an officer on site to maintain order and represent the police at the school.
"Detective [Russ] Anderson teaches two law enforcement classes here," she said. "That is a huge asset to the school and the community. He goes into the elementary schools as the DARE officer. It really established a positive rapport with the police department and the youth of the city." Merrill related seeing elementary school children at high school basketball games who knew Anderson from his trips as the DARE officer and calling out to him in a friendly way.
Merrill puts the safety of the students first, Call said.
"Ms. Merrill has been a staunch supporter of the police department even when it may have been politically easier to agree with critics," he wrote. "She does not bow to political expediency at the cost of what is right and wrong. She is ethical and wants to instill that same high standard of ethics in the students she cares for."
One of her goals is to create a good relationship between the students, schools and law enforcement.
"We want children of all ages to feel comfortable to go to an adult, to say someone is bullying me or that there is a knife," she said. "We rely on that relationship of trust."