MCU: Orem's SRO manages many roles 01

Dan McKown, the Orem High School resource officer, speaks with a student between classes at Orem High on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Orem. McKown steps out of his officer during class times to chat with students as they walk from their classrooms.

Kids should feel safe when they see police officers in their schools.

That is one of the messages given by a group of former Columbine High School students as they spoke to the faculty at Orem Elementary School last week. The speakers, part of the group “Rebels For Change,” often share about their lives during and after the school shooting on April 20, 1999. They work to help people be more prepared for and to heal from disasters, such as the one that they experienced.

One of the points that members of the group made was the importance of kids being comfortable around police officers. After a catastrophic event, such as the Columbine school shooting, a space can quickly fill up with law enforcement officers, which can further scare or intimidate the students.

The Rebels for Change group suggests that schools incorporate police officers into their emergency drills. Many schools in Utah County do this. Also, providing opportunities for kids to interact with police officers can help students to trust and feel less afraid during a crisis.

One way that students can learn to be comfortable around police officers is interacting with them at school. That is happening right here in Utah Valley in a variety of ways. One of those ways has been going strong for seven years and has become a tradition for the schools in Pleasant Grove.

Since 2012, Pleasant Grove’s police officers have been conducting daily walk-throughs at every school in the city. These walk-throughs serve many purposes, like letting would-be “bad guys” know that police are often at the schools, becoming accustomed to the layout of the facilities and helping students and staff feel safe are some of the benefits of the program. But, perhaps the most important purpose is to get to know the kids.

According to Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Roberts, all of the officers in the department, no matter their ranks or positions, participate in the daily walk-throughs at 13 different schools in the city.

The students seem to love to see the officers.

“They get a lot of high fives and fist bumps,” Roberts said. “It is a good trust-building tool, but also helps ease the tensions of some students, given the incidents involving schools over the years and recently.”

Roberts came up with the idea to begin the daily walk-throughs after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012. It has proved to be a lasting practice that the community is accustomed to and appreciates.

“Y’all are awesome! Thank you so much for collectively keeping our babies safe. God bless you!” reads one comment on a recent Facebook discussion about the practice on the Pleasant Grove Community Connection page.

“The school that I work at looks forward to the days that we are visited. The children love seeing the officer in the hall,” reads another.

Daily walk-throughs are just one way that one department is interacting with kids. These students who see police officers in their schools often are learning that officers are there to keep them safe and that they are not just there when something scary or negative is happening.

We all hope catastrophes don’t happen and our kids won’t need to be helped by the police. But, if something happens like it did at Columbine, we want our kids to feel a wave of relief when the police arrive, not more fear.

Laura Giles is a longtime correspondent for the Daily Herald and a community member living in Pleasant Grove. She can be contacted at LauraCGiles@gmail.com.

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