With conversation of SROs carving time at many meetings, Morris shares his thoughts about the job
The topic of school resource officers has dominated both Mantua and Harrison Township committee meetings along with local board of education meetings.
The conversation has led to all three school districts either implementing officers or planning for implementation while also brainstorming further physical security measures.
While all three districts stress that safety and security have and always will be a top priority, the national trend of amplified security comes in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., this past February.
While the national debate about the effectiveness of school resource officers continues, Harrison, Mantua and Clearview Regional are on the side of approval.
A hybrid-type position, school resource officers are called to serve as the main line of communication between a district and law enforcement, watch for threats and be an active eye on students while also assisting in maintaining a calm, pleasant climate in a school while this country struggles to stifle the plague of school violence.
In Mantua, the school district now has a class II officer who patrols the halls of the all three school buildings. The officer splits 20 hours a week between the three buildings.
Harrison Township schools will see the presence of two full-time officers starting in September after a shared services agreement was settled between the district and the municipality in the 11th hour of budget season.
As for Clearview Regional, a school resource officer has been present, balancing time between both buildings for the better part of 20 years, most time spent in the high school.
In September, the middle school will gain one, full-time officer.
In the Clearview Regional position now is Harrison Township patrolman Patrick Morris.
Morris is closing in on his second full year in the position; he’s been part of the Harrison Township Police Department for more than five years.
In an interview, Morris stated there is much more to the school resource officer position than being present for the “it can’t happen here” moment.
However, with situations such as school shootings in mind, he said the most important thing for him to think about is “I’m here for what I am doing, but I’m also here for what I may have to do.”
Stating the frequent news of school shootings does not increase pressure on him, he explained that while he walks the halls of Clearview Regional, he, at times, runs mock scenarios in his head. He said by doing this a few times a week, he keeps himself hyper-aware.
Referring back to his days patrolling Harrison Township roads, he said, “A critical incident can happen just as quick inside the school as it can on the road.”
Morris explained that at his desk on Clearview Regional’s campus, he is able to watch live video from approximately 75 cameras in the high school alone. Both Harrison and Mantua police are able to stream the video at either station, along with the county prosecutor’s office.
Tucked in the corners where walls meet ceilings, partial orb mirrors are fixed allowing Morris to see around the corner and up the staircase and vice versa. On the approximately 35 locked, exterior doors, signs with bold, capital letters warn students and staff to not prop a door open or let someone in from the outside. Individuals wishing to enter the school must pass through the school’s front entrance and meet the lobby guard, an individual with a walkie talkie and access to the video stream.
Noting that budget moves have been made to incorporate more cameras, Morris stressed this hyper security is only part of the job.
He referred to his position as two-fold, stating one of his roles is to be a direct liaison between the police department and the school district.
Encouraged by the administration’s keen awareness, he mentioned each week he is informed by staff members about items of concern, whether it is something overheard in the hallway or the knowledge of an off-campus incident. These tips, Morris explained, allow him to have a better knowledge of the school and give law enforcement useful information about the community they may not otherwise receive.
Stating trouble is rare, there are still policies in place that directly involve police activity.
In recent years, Clearview Regional has enacted a policy requiring onsite, physical altercations between students be dealt with by the school resource officer; the students engaged are charged with disorderly conduct. Morris stated that in his two years, he can recall only one incident.
“Overall, we have great kids,” he said.
The most “policing” he deals with is attempting to deter students from using vaporizers. “It’s not rampant, but it’s at the top of the list,” he said. Clearview Regional administration recently amended policy to the effect that if a student is caught vaping or possesses vaping paraphernalia, there will be a minimum five-day suspension and the student will be sent out for a drug screen.
The second part of his job, and the one he sees as most critical is being “the bridge between the kids and law enforcement,” he said.
Morris explained that while some districts are placing retired officers in schools, he feels it is more beneficial for a younger officer to be present and creating relationships with students to “humanize” law enforcement in the eyes of youth.
While placing retired officers in the schools saves a district money (non-salary/no benefits), a younger officer, according to Morris, allows for the chance of relatability between students and the police.
“I’ve had some kids pull me aside and ask for career advice,” he said.
Laughing, Morris mentioned that kids are surprised when they find out he knows the music blaring in their headphones.
“I always prefer positive interaction with the kids,” he said, noting he has a positive, friendly relationship with many students. Some students say hello, others pass by indifferent and some, he feels, still see him as an obstacle.
“You have to want to be around kids,” he said.
A former youth soccer coach, Morris explained he feels his job is about protecting students and staff while also providing an education about safety.
“I’m here if [students and staff] have questions about law enforcement … I’m a good outlet for them,” he said.
Contemplating what he wants to see prosper at Clearview Regional, he said, “I want students to take ownership of their safety,” explaining that a greater school and community pride would assist students be more aware of consequences of failing to follow safety procedures.
Morris tends to be the first authority students and parents see in the morning. Arriving before most, Morris stands at attention during drop-off time at both campuses. He says he hopes his presence offers a sense of security to students and parents and a deterrent to those with negative ideas, big and small.
The position is a mixture of cop, educator and counselor, and it is one that is being both appreciated and scrutinized more than ever.