In light of the multiple school shootings that have taken place over the last twenty years, including those of Parkland and Sandy Hook, the Ridgewood Public School system has made major efforts to increase school security. One of the recent additions has been the presence of school police and resource officers. You may have seen these officers positioned behind the desk at the Little Theatre entrance, directing traffic during the hectic morning commute, or walking through the hallways. So who are these people, and why are they in school?
A school resource officer is a career law-enforcement officer, not a security guard. They are usually armed unless school laws strictly prohibit weapons on campus. In Ridgewood, the officers do not carry, but they are prepared to defend the school, students, and staff in case of an emergency. The goal of school resource officers is to provide students and faculty with a safe learning environment.
In a recent survey of twenty-two freshmen, almost half claimed that they feel less safe in school in light of the recent school violence. “Everyone always says it won’t happen until it does,” mentioned one freshman. Learning in a place that feels unsafe is extremely difficult, especially with the threat of extreme violence hanging over students’ heads.
School resource officers are required to pass an (at least) 40-hour training that teaches them skills in the event of an active shooter, and have at least three years of street experience; it is not a job cut out for everyone. In the event of violence, officers are trained to put themselves in danger rather than jeopardize the safety of the students. Officers should also not have any previous incidents or complaints involving youth, as they should want to develop friendly relationships with the students in the school.
At Ridgewood High School, the officers frequently walk through the halls, cafeteria, and Learning Commons, waving and conversing with students. Talking with the officers helps students familiarize themselves with the otherwise intimidating strangers in the hallways. Mr. Reinke, the head of security of the Ridgewood Public School district, is often in the high school, walking down the hallways and greeting students.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2018 that during the 2015-2016 school year, 42% of public schools had at least one school resource officer working for one day per week. Increased safety also comes in the form of the two blue pieces of tape on classroom walls, indicating where to hide during a lockdown so that students are not visible to an intruder looking through the door.
Ridgewood has always been hyper-aware of student safety: some may recall in the 2017-2018 school year when there was an unidentified man outside of Willard School, and the entire district went on lockdown. The Ridgewood Public School district follows the motto “better safe than sorry”, and despite how frustrated teachers may be when a fire drill, lockdown, or modified lockdown interrupts class, Ridgewood ensures that its students feel safe throughout the school day, from kindergarten to senior year.
Graphics: Annie Probert